Cougar followed, hissed at hikers in latest incident prompting warning from Alberta Parks
There are 2 active cougar warnings in place west of Calgary
There are two active cougar warnings in place west of Calgary — a reminder to Albertans to remain vigilant on hikes and winter walks.
After several cougar sightings near Canmore, a warning was issued on Jan. 8 and remains in place for the town and Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, specifically Cougar Creek, Horseshoe Loop Trails, Montane Traverse Loop and surrounding areas.
John Paczkowski, human-wildlife coexistence team lead with Alberta Parks, said there haven't been any sightings in the Canmore area for the past 10 days. He noted a lack of fresh snow, warm daytime temperatures and competing human footprints has made it tough to track whether or not the animal remains in the area.
"We're kind of monitoring the situation," Paczkowski said. "It might be a few days yet before the warnings come down."
Another incident, this time in Kananaskis Country, prompted a cougar warning on Monday.
A cougar reportedly followed a couple who were hiking near the Blackshale Creek Suspension Bridge, which is on a portion of the High Rockies Trail from Kent Creek to the Black Prince Junction.
In that case, the hikers relayed a detailed report to Alberta Parks officials.
The couple heard what was described as yelling when they saw what appeared to be a pair of lynx, one large and one small. They had stopped to take a look when one of the hikers spotted something more concerning nearby.
A pair of lynx, a pair of cougars
"The husband in the party sort of went, 'No, let's get out of here, let's go,'" Paczkowski said. "Because he saw a cougar crouching under a tree not far away."
Not just one, but two cougars. The hikers pulled out some bear spray and began leaving the area. The cougars were hissing and following 10 metres behind.
Paczkowski said the hikers made it back to the road, and the cougars didn't come any closer.
This type of behaviour, Paczkowski added, isn't typical. But because cougars are hard-pressed to make kills in the early fall and winter when ungulates are still able to scrounge up enough energy to escape a hunt, it's a challenging time for the predators — especially young cougars.
"So they start to show up a little bit and, you know, maybe push the boundaries."
Province has about 1,500 cougars
Alberta has a healthy cougar population, said Paul Frame, provincial carnivore specialist for Alberta Fish and Wildlife. He said the population has built itself up over several decades, following population growth in white-tailed deer and other ungulates.
Frame said the province believes there are about 1,500 cougars spread across Alberta. That number was about 600 or 700 a decade ago.
Typically, he added, cougars can live close to humans without incident.
But in winter, they can be easier to spot because there's less foliage to hide behind, and they leave tracks behind in the snow.
In one study the province conducted, they collared about 100 cougars and watched their behaviour for six years, Frame said.
"We had one young male that dispersed and went up and he hung around the town of Whitecourt for two months," Frame said. "We got no reports of him … no sightings, no reports of any, any issues with him. And then eventually he moved on."
While cougars tend to be wary of humans, attacks do happen.
The last recorded cougar attack in Alberta happened in August 2022. Frame said the province had gone about three years since the previous attack.
How to act when a cougar approaches
The best advice for those headed out on winter hikes or walks is not to let your guard down.
Bear spray is still useful in the colder months. Paczkowski said there isn't as much data on its use against cougars, but added it will slow down or stop a cougar attack in a pinch.
Other strategies in a cougar encounter are to be assertive, and not appear weak, make yourself look big, make noise, brandish a stick or even throw things at the cougar.
"If a cougar is approaching in a threatening manner, it's hunting," Frame said. "The best way to deal with that is to make the cougar think that it's not worth the risk to try and attack."