Ottawa

Photograph taken in west Quebec could be of a cougar

A farmer in west Quebec is convinced a hidden game camera on his property has captured a photo of a cougar.

Digital game camera captures large, beige coloured animal moving through baited area

Maxime Servant's motion sensing game camera captured this photograph near Scotch Road, in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Quebec. (Maxime Servant)

A farmer in west Quebec is convinced a hidden game camera installed on his property captured a photo of a cougar.

Before hunting season began, hunter Maxime Servant spread out apples and rigged up a game camera to take images of deer. The camera, triggered by a motion sensor, caught what appears to be the back of a large, tawny brown or beige coloured animal with a long, thick tail.

Although the camera was tripped in September, the image only came to light recently after Servant checked the device's memory card.

"Sure looks like a cougar to me," said Jimmy Hoare, the dairy farmer whose property Servant used in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge to set up his camera.

Two photographs date stamped 6:21 p.m. ET on September 25 show the same animal moving away from the lens across an area baited with apples. Hoare says the images haven't been altered or edited in any way. 

Exchangeable Image File Format -- or EXIF -- data accompanying the picture matches that of others gathered from the same memory card installed in the game camera. The device was screwed to a cherry tree about 10 metres beyond the rear edge of the cornfield at the farm.

The apple bait seems to have become popular with wildlife over the months of September and October. The camera captured daytime and night-time images of white-tailed deer, a fox, a hawk and the golden beige animal in question.

Hoare, a third generation farmer on the mountainous land that fringes the edge of a tall escarpment, says the landscape fits the bill. "You're not far, you have a little tunnel underneath the [highway] 50 here and it's miles and miles of nothing," he said.

Turkeys, deer, coyotes and wolves are frequently seen in the area around his farm said Hoare.

Two years ago, his wife Cheryl noticed tracks in the mud that she believed matched images of cougar prints she found when she researched the mystery on the internet.

"It says that the nails retract, they don't show the nails in the print and there's three lobes in the back. It was probably three to four inches in diameter," she said.

"My dog can leave a good-sized paw print, but this was bigger than my dog's."

The photographs that Hoare captured have been forwarded to conservation authorities. Hugo Pilon, an officer with Quebec's Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife, said although the animal appears to be a cougar an official determination hasn't been made.

However, a 2014 study by a University of Montreal biologist confirmed the presence of cougars in Quebec.

'You're always looking up and looking down'

Hoare is now linking the alleged cougar sighting to the recent death of one of his dairy calves, which was born about a week premature and found dead in the field a couple of weeks before Servant's photo was taken.

"Not ate-up, but gutted out. So, I don't know what it was," he said.

Hoare said the sound of coyotes can be heard around the farm at night and they may be the culprits. 

Still, he and his family are cautious about the possibility of cougars nearby and have changed their habits.

"You're always looking up and looking down if you walk around in the bush. Cougars are known to pounce."

Meanwhile, Quebec Wildlife officials told Servant they plan to return to the area where his photographs were taken to set up a post, baited with female cougar urine, in order to get a better photograph and DNA samples of the animal.

They're also urging local hunters, who may have similar pictures from a game camera, to come forward.