Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 14/1/2011 (2382 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Biologist Bill Watkins braced himself Friday for the latest crime scene investigation -- a rare cougars victims unit.
Manitoba Conservation officers were transporting the body of the big cat caught by a trapper near Boissevain to Winnipeg for examination.
"It's so rare, it's exciting," he said. "We know so little about cougars in Manitoba. We'll be able to examine it and learn from it and add to our database. What are they doing here, where are they coming from and how many there might be."
The last time anyone got their hands on a cougar in Manitoba was nearly seven years ago.
Two cougars were found in separate incidents around Duck Mountain Provincial Park and Riding Mountain National Park. One was shot and one was caught in a trap, Watkins said. This week, trapper Grant Armstrong found the large male in a power snare set for coyotes.
"It's a quick-kill trap," said Watkins. The condition of the carcass can tell a lot about a cougar, he said. "Does it have a lot of body fat or was it skinny? Did it show any signs of injury? Is it an older animal or a younger animal? That's the first tier of information. Then we do a necropsy and begin looking for things like parasite load or any disease. They're important indicators of where an animal might be coming from."
Whenever there's a cougar sighting in Manitoba, people wonder if it's wild or escaped from a zoo, he said. In the old days, this used to be their home.
"Historically, Manitoba was part of the cougar range, but it disappeared in the mid- to late 1800s when settlers settled the area and they were shot or trapped out," Watkins said.
"Now we're beginning to see cougars on a fairly regular basis, about one a year." He suspects they're following river corridors from South and North Dakota up into Manitoba.
"Most people's cougar encounter is watching their tail disappear into the bush as it runs away."
In 2004, the two cougars caught and examined in Manitoba were wild animals, carrying parasites only cougars can carry, he said, "as opposed to those who lived with other animals in cages next door."
"Both had old injuries that had healed, but were very clearly the result of blunt trauma, like they were kicked in the ribs."
Watkins said it appeared the cougars received the injuries on the job. "As predators, they may get a good thump trying to take down a deer."
The female was young and had never had kittens. The male cougar had a more serious injury and old porcupine quills were found under its skin.
"The story being told was that the animal was injured so badly it was forced to feed on smaller animals like porcupines and squirrels till it healed."