'Bodies all over the place': Cochrane farmer recalls cougar massacre that killed 38 sheep
'It was very quiet in the corral. Normally they make a lot of noise,' Barry Richards said
He's still shaken two days later.
When Barry Richards went to feed his sheep Tuesday at 7 a.m., he was shocked and horrified at what he found.
"When I got down there I noticed a lamb outside of the corral. This is unusual," he said, noting it was a newborn.
"It was very quiet in the corral. Normally they make a lot of noise. They want to eat. It was total silence," Richards told The Homestretch Thursday.
He said a cougar had gotten into the corral at his Cochrane-area farm overnight and quietly slaughtered 38 sheep.
"Sixteen newborn lambs, about one- to two-weeks old, 20 ewes, some were pregnant, and two rams. In addition to that several were severely injured," he said.
Richards said he had to put down an additional sheep, and three others are being assessed by a veterinarian.
"We hope that they survive," he said.
A 'great encouragement'
"We have two lambs that survived. One was born the morning of the carnage, and another one was about a week old. It had survived by hunkering down by its mother, and the cougar missed it somehow. We have those, and they are great encouragement."
Richards said he saw the cougar the night before through his family room window after dinner with his girlfriend.
"She saw a cougar looking in the window. Its face was well lit by the kitchen lights. It was watching us. It was looking to see what was in there," Richards said.
It seemed bold and unafraid when Richards tried to scare it off, he said.
"It didn't run off. It seemed humanized. It was used to people. It wasn't afraid of us."
After the gruesome Tuesday morning discovery, Richards and some neighbours with hounds found and cornered the cougar in a tree. Alberta Fish and Wildlife officers showed up around noon and shot and killed the animal.
"They said once it had started eating domestic livestock, it will not stop. They couldn't tranquilize it and move it. It was too dangerous," he said.
Richards says it was an older animal.
"It was basically almost starved, you could feel its ribs and spinal column. The gum recession was extreme. Fish and Wildlife officers thought it was almost starving, but it had enough energy to kill all my sheep and to climb the poplar tree. It wasn't a doomed animal by any means. It was just old and hungry."
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Richards says he's deeply upset by the incident, as are his neighbours and his girlfriend.
"She really likes animals. She couldn't go down and see the scene. She won't help me bottle feed or do the veterinarian work. She is just too devastated."
Massacres not unheard of, expert says
Mark Boyce is an ecology professor at the University of Alberta who has studied cougar behaviour in the province extensively. He speculates this animal may have struggled to find wild prey due to an illness or age, but that this type of massacre is not unheard of.
"When they get into a situation where it is just so easy and they are so super stimulated to kill, they will kill one and then another one. They end up killing so many they just couldn't possibly eat them all," Boyce said.
He says that this cougar didn't seem have a fear of humans, is not a good thing.
"It is unusual," he said.
"It certainly happens and it suggests that something is wrong. It's not a good situation to be in."
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With files from The Homestretch and Ellis Choe