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Wildlife officers spot possible cougar crossing N.W.T. highway

There was a possible sighting of a large wildcat over the weekend on the Ingraham Trail outside of Yellowknife. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources says sightings are rare but not unheard of.

The territory says these sightings are rare but not unheard of

An adult cougar in this file photo. There was a rare sighting of a large wildcat - possibly a cougar - over the weekend on Ingraham Trail, a route in the Northwest Territories that connects Yellowknife to Tibbitt Lake.  (Dave Hobson)

There was a rare sighting of a large wildcat over the weekend on the Ingraham Trail outside of Yellowknife.

Lee Mandeville, a wildlife officer with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR), told CBC he and another officer believe they spotted a cougar around 1 p.m. on Sunday. The animal was crossing the highway between the Cameron Falls trailhead and Reid Lake campground.

Mandeville says they were out on a regular patrol when the big cat was seen about 50 metres from the front of their truck.

"A cougar came flying out of nowhere and jumped over the road," he said.

"It was a pretty amazing experience."

The officers have seen a number of lynx while out on patrol over the years, and they knew that was not what they had just seen.

For one, it was quite a bit larger, and its stride was long, he said. They patrolled on foot for over an hour looking for signs of the animal but couldn't come up with any tracks, as the ground was hard.  

A cougar came flying out of nowhere and jumped over the road.​​​​​- Lee Mandeville, wildlife officer

A cougar in the North Slave region is rare, but not unheard of, according to the territorial government. Back in 2008 there were two cougar sightings in the Yellowknife area that caused Parker Park to be closed.

Mandeville says it's important the public is aware of the possibility of these animals being in the area and what to do in case of an encounter.

The territory recommends that people are alert and aware of their surroundings if they're out hiking or camping in the area. Mandeville added that it's best to stay in a group and keep children nearby. People who have dogs with them should be sure they are leashed. 

'Secretive' animals

"They're really secretive, rarely seen animal, but they can be really aggressive and unpredictable if they encounter people," Mandeville said.

If you do encounter a cougar, stay calm and keep the cougar in view, the territory recommends.

People should also maintain eye contact with it and back away slowly., he said. Do not turn your back on the cougar and do not run, instead speak loudly and firmly. Raise your arms or use a stick to make yourself look bigger. If you are attacked by a cougar, the department said to fight back.

When you are no longer in danger, call the ENR  as soon as possible to report the sighting, he said.

"It's an uncommon species in our region and we'll have to adapt some of our operations and incorporate the species into some of the problem wildlife we might have in the area," Mandeville said.

"It's a highly populated area so we want the public to know."

With files from Lawrence Nayally

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