New Brunswick

New Brunswick cougars are likely escaped pets, not eastern cougars

One New Brunswick scientist isn't discounting the idea of cougars roaming around the province's forests, but he believes it's unlikely these large felines are native to the region.

UNB biologist Graham Forbes says most evidence points to pet trade as cause of province's cougar mystery

Several cougar sightings have been reported in the province over the past few months, but this doesn't prove the eastern cougar still roams wild in New Brunswick. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

One New Brunswick scientist isn't discounting the idea of cougars roaming around the province's forests, but he believes these large felines aren't native to the region and are probably escaped pets.

Graham Forbes, a professor in the University of New Brunswick's faculty of forestry and environmental management, said there is some evidence of cougars, but it's just as important to note where they are coming from. 

"The question then becomes is [the cougar] of wild origin, or is it released or escaped pet trade origin animal," said Forbes.

Forbes said there are three groups of thought around the origin of New Brunswick's cougar population; that the eastern cougar still exists in the province, that cougars from western Canada are migrating east and finally that the cougars in the province are escaped or freed pets.

Graham Forbes, a forestry professor at UNB, said it's hard for scientists to believe the eastern cougar is the cause of cougar sightings in the province. (CBC)
Forbes said biologists find the prospect of eastern cougars still existing in New Brunswick hard to imagine.

"The idea that there's a remnant population of the original cougars in this region is very hard for I would say the vast majority of wildlife biologists [to believe,]" said Forbes.

"For that to happen there would be many more carcasses over time. The last one shot in New Brunswick was in 1938 and we're not even sure the origin of that one."

There have been several sightings of animals thought to be cougars in the province over the past few months.

There were sightings in the Tracy area as well as Grand Falls, where some video was offered as evidence to a possible cougar.

Pet trade likely to blame

Featured VideoWhat if there really are cougars in the wilds of New Brunswick? Terry Seguin asks one of the province's top experts in the field.
Forbes said while the idea of owning a cougar as a pet isn't popular in the Maritimes, the idea isn't as foreign in the United States.

"There's ads in the states with people selling cougars. They're a fairly common species out west, but there's also I guess some sort of pet trade coming up from South America," said Forbes

There is some evidence though that all the cougars spotted may not be from the pet trade. Forbes said there was a case in Connecticut where a cougar hit by a car had its path from the Dakotas traced by scientists using DNA.

Possible cougar sighting

7 years ago
Duration 0:16
Featured VideoA Grand Falls woman claims she has captured a cougar on-camera as it crept through a field across from her home.
"So here's a case of a proven animal that got from the west, wild population, to the east without human help," said Forbes.

Don't expect any cougars in New Brunswick to receive wildlife protection. There are standards that would have to be met before that happened.

"It would have to be a population that's genetically distinct in this part  of the world and not interacting with other populations of cougar for it to warrant its own conservation status," said Forbes.

'I want to believe'

Forbes said there hasn't been a month since he became a scientist where he wasn't asked about cougars in the province.

He said New Brunswickers seem to want the cougar myth to be true, even to the point of lying about experiences.

He noted a picture of a cougar said to be from New Brunswick, but was spotted with other out-of-province wildlife.

"Here's a picture of a cougar, definitely a cougar on the floor of this garage. This person said this was happening somewhere in Nova Scotia and on the wall was a whole bunch of deer heads, for taxidermy, and they were of mule deer, which is a western species only," said Forbes. 

Other hoaxes don't need a knowledge of deer species to debunk, just a keen eye.

"[Someone said]'I took this picture in New Brunswick' and you can blow up the licence plate on the car beside the cougar and you could see Colorado," said Forbes.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton