A cougar that was killed in the Duck Mountains region died after accidentally getting caught in a wolf trap over the holidays, Manitoba Conservation says.

Cougar trapped in Duck Mountains

This cougar was unintentionally killed in a wolf trap in Duck Mountains over the holidays. (Supplied)

Bill Watkins, a biologist with Manitoba Conservation, said the wild cat was the victim of "bycatch," where a non-target species is unintentionally trapped. It was retrieved from the trap sometime between Dec. 28 and Dec. 31.

"There's no way that a trapper could control the animals that wander into the trap," he said. "It was set for wolves, so everything is completely legitimate. When he realized that he caught a cougar he contacted the department and one of our conservation officers responded."

Up until about six years ago, the likelihood of seeing a cougar in Manitoba was rare, Watkins said. Now there are a handful of sightings annually.

"Until 2004, we hadn't had a dead cougar since the 1970s," Watkins said. "In the last six years we've had two or three confirmed sightings of cougars, and I'm including cougars that have been accidentally killed in traps set for other species."

Cougar caught and killed in Manitoba

This cougar was caught and killed near Boissevain, Man., in early December. It was the fifth cougar found in the province in 11 years. (Manitoba Conservation)

Up until the 1880s, cougars were found throughout southern Manitoba, but they eventually disappeared. Aside from a few reports of the odd nomadic cat creeping into the province, a stable population was never re-established in Manitoba.

But Watkins believes the species is regenerating and returning to their former habitat in Manitoba. There could be as many as 50 in the province presently, he said.