RIVER JOHN – Who says there are no wild cougars in Nova Scotia?
Authorities may caution otherwise but two River John-area residents are convinced that an animal that crossed in front of them on the Upper River John Road last week was indeed a cougar.
"It sat there and it kind of looked at us," said Heather Morrissey, who said she and friend Karl Karlsson spotted the cougar one day last week. "And I mean I saw the thing directly. It looked at me when it was down over the embankment," she said, adding the lighting conditions were good and the pair was only between seven to nine metres away from the animal before it slipped away into the woods.
"And it was a sunny day, there was no confusion," Morrissey said, adding that as a former animal control officer in Burlington, Ont., for 18 years, she has had previous contact with eastern cougars.
"It was a very rare occasion but we did see them," she said. "I've seen them also in wildlife parks and things like that, so this definitely was a cougar."
Shavonne Meyer, a Department of Natural Resources biologist in Truro, said while Morrissey's description "sounds a lot like a cougar," so do a lot of the 50 to 100 sightings the department receives each year.
"They sound great," Meyers said, of similar sightings that often come from "very credible sources too. But without the physical evidence, we say the jury is still out."
Meyers said the department records each reported sighting they receive and, where possible, the reports are checked out by DNR staff.
"And in no cases have we been able to find physical evidence to substantiate the observations," she said, of such things as distinctive tracks, scat, fur or a cougar carcass.
"We basically say that we're very confident that there's no breeding population of cougars in Nova Scotia. But the possibility of a transient or a single captive animal is fathomable. It's just that we haven't found any physical evidence to be able to corroborate that," she said.
"We're not saying that they're not here, not saying that they are. (We're) saying that the information we need to really assess that is not complete."