Canada received a surprise visitor from the United States in mid-May, but the four-legged visitor probably won't find what he's looking for in Manitoba.
A cougar, likely a young male on the prowl for a mate, was spotted by a Manitoba man just off a trail 10 kilometres southwest of MacGregor.
Klaus Dittberner noted he was in the bush and trying to find his bearings when he saw the well-camouflaged cougar. He immediately snapped a photo of the animal.
"If I hadn't been looking so carefully for the trail I had lost, I never would have seen it," he wrote in an email. "It didn't appear aggressive, just curious, that's why I approached so close to get the pic. Beautiful animal!"
Bill Watkins, a zoologist with Manitoba Conservation, confirmed the animal in the photo is a cougar.
"There are no other animals in Manitoba that look even remotely like a cougar. When you have a photo that shows the facial markings, it's very clear," Watkins said.
Dittberner didn't contact Manitoba Conservation directly, but got in touch with Joanne Hutlet, a Winnipegger who has a master's degree in natural resources management whose thesis was titled The Cougar in Manitoba. She has a website (www.manitobacougar.com) that highlights her research.
Hutlet passed the photo on to Watkins, who spoke with Dittberner and then confirmed the photo was no hoax — which happens more than most people might think, Watkins said.
Watkins said because only a portion of the animal is visible in the photo, he can only guess as to the animal's age and sex, but said it's likely a young male.
These animals are forced from the family unit as they mature and travel to find females in new locations.
Watkins said the most probable route into Manitoba would be from the Dakotas.
"We have populations of cougars to the south of us. We have river corridors that connect those areas with Manitoba, and we believe that most of the animals that are entering Manitoba are coming from the south," he said.
Another population has been charted in the Cypress Hills on the border of Alberta and Saskatchewan, but those cougars don't have easy access to Manitoba.
Watkins said if the Manitoba cougar is a young male searching for a female, he won't have much luck.
"We have no recent evidence of breeding cougars in Manitoba. No one has spotted or photographed kittens," he said.
Watkins said the chances of human-cougar contact are very low.
"We've never had an incident with a cougar attacking a human in Manitoba. There is no recorded incident," he said.