Cougar discovery 'exciting,' but unlikely to impact forest management in Ontario, says biologist

The discovery of the body of a cougar in northwestern Ontario is significant, but don't expect it to spark big changes in how northwestern Ontario's lands and forests are managed, says a wildlife biologist in Thunder Bay, Ont.

Mandi Weist compares her hand to the paw of the dead cougar she and a friend found off Boreal Road, north west of Thunder Bay March 25, 2017. (photo credit: Mandi Weist)

The discovery of the body of a cougar in northwestern Ontario is significant, but don't expect it to spark big changes in how northwestern Ontario's forests are managed, says a wildlife biologist in Thunder Bay, Ont. 

The finding was "quite exciting to hear about," said Ted Armstrong, adding that if it's verified as wild, he believes it will be the first confirmed specimen of the animal in the province. 

But although cougars are listed as endangered in Ontario, Armstrong said he's doubtful that the discovery will lead to any direct implications for forest management. 

For that, Armstrong said there would likely need to be a better understanding of the cougar population, and where they live, which would be hard evidence to gather given how seldom the creatures are spotted. 

While there's long been public debate over the existence of cougars in the province, Armstrong said he's hopeful that the discovery of a specimen will spark interest in learning more about the animals. 

'Born to travel'

One question that remains to be answered is where this particular cougar originated. 

Cougars may wander Ontario's forests, but that doesn't mean they're full-time residents, said Brian McLaren, an associate professor in the faculty of natural resources management at Lakehead University. 

McLaren said he has no doubts that cougars exist in Ontario, but they're likely to have travelled from further west. 

"A cougar who died in this province could have been travelling through this province, and it probably was," he said. 

"They're born to travel," he said. "Big predators like this disperse long distances." 

Genetic testing should be able to show where the animal originated, he said. 

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said it does plan to do DNA testing on the cougar, to determine whether it was indeed a wild animal. 

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