If you see a cougar, call the TIPP line, especially before posting on social media. Conservation Officers recently followed up on just such a post about a cougar sighting in the Weyburn area.
"I don't even consider this a confirmed sighting," stated local Conservation Officer with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment, Lindsey Leko. "We investigated once we found out about it, because unfortunately, a lot of times people don't contact us right away, they'll contact, the City police or they tend to put it on social media or wherever. They feel that's the best thing to do, as opposed to calling somebody who might be able to actually do something."
He said when they did go out to the area, there was no sign of a cougar.
"There was no tracks, there was nothing. So I'm not saying that this individual didn't see a cougar. Is it plausible? Absolutely it is. Cougars are a viable part of our landscape now. They're part of our environment, and this is not the first time we've had a cougar sighting in the city of Weyburn and Estevan, and all over the south," he noted. "We've got a pretty healthy population, so it is possible. So, I want to bring awareness to it, but the last thing I want to do is create a panic."
Leko said because they don't have any evidence or photos of the cougar, they aren't able to confirm the sighting.
"Tracks are very, very difficult, unless they're fresh, because even in snow, you get the freeze and thaw, and they dry out, they get smaller," he shared. "Every winter we get lots of calls about possible cougar tracks, and they all turn out to be a large dog."
He said one telltale sign is the claws on a cat are always retracted.
"There's different characteristics that make it different than a coyote or a dog or a wolf, so, if we can get a good fresh track then we have an idea," he said, noting they can employ the help of tracking dogs to locate the cougar. However, they aren't hunting them as humans and cougars must coexist.
That said, those who are aware of how to behave around bears should be better equipped to behave around a cougar. But there's more.
"If you see it at a distance, there might be a good chance that it doesn't even know you're there, so, as I tell my kids, if you happen to see it, don't ever take your eyes off it," explained Leko. "There's also situations where you might be out riding your bike or whatever, you could be watched by a cat as well. We see all these photos on the internet of a couple of hunters posing with their deer, and not until they look at the pictures afterward they realized it was a cat in the tree behind them and had no idea."
Cats don't like interacting with humans, Leko said.
"They are a solitary animal. They're active in the evenings and then early mornings, so to see one walking around mid-afternoon, I'm not saying it won't happen, but it's not very likely."
Keep eyes on the cougar at all times.
"Grab your kids, keep them in close. Keep your pets close, and make sure they're on a leash. These are all pretty much the same type of things that you would do with a bear," he said. "The one thing you never would do is you would never run, because we feel that there's probably a good chance that running away will kick in that predatory response, the predator-prey instinct in the cat, and it might chase."
He said back away and give the cougar an escape route.
"That's your best bet, and in the highly unlikely event of an attack, you fight. Punch it, whatever you gotta do, to get the cat off you and to survive. That's what you're going to do, and you don't want to play dead with a cat, because it doesn't realize that. It's not like a grizzly, where it's a dominance thing. It could see you as a food source, or it could just be afraid as well too," he explained. "It's just protecting its territory. It doesn't know how to react. We have humans that always want to get close to animals, and might just be a reactionary thing, and the problem is that, with a wild animal, you don't know what they're thinking when it attacks."
"Be aware that we are in cougar country," implored Leko. "Never take their eyes off it. Back away slowly and don't run. Keep your kids in close, make sure your pets are on a leash."
Leko said if you see a cat, you can call the City police but an even more direct way to reach them is by calling the Turn in Poachers line (TIPP line) at 1-800-667-7561 or #5555 from a Sasktel cellphone.
"It is a 24 hour 365 days a year dispatch for conservation officers, they'll dispatch somebody right away, and you've got two sitting right here in Weyburn, so it's nice to know that when we see these things and we hear about them, I'm not reading about it on social media the next day."
He said another telltale sign of a cougar is their kill site with 'hidden' food, and the females in heat make a high-pitched squealing sound.