The Dryden Observer

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Lake of the Woods ‘cougar’ photographs renew debate over animal’s existence in Northwestern Ontario

Chris Marchand

Chris Marchand served as editor of the Dryden Observer from August 2009 to April 2018.
Virginia Potter and Brent Lemay are convinced the animal that they photographed swimming in Lake of the Woods recently was indeed the elusive Eastern Cougar. MNR officials have never verified the existence of the animal in Ontario. (The image was sharpened and contrast levels were adjusted in post-production by the Dryden Observer) Photos courtesy Virginia Potter

By Amanda McAlpine

Add one more to a growing list of sightings of the ‘Eastern Cougar’ — an animal whose existence the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources maintains there is little concrete evidence to support.

The latest sighting originates in on Lake of Woods near Kenora.

Virginia Potter, a Kenora resident, was boating with her partner Brent Lemay on Lake of the Woods on June 15 when the two spotted what they believe to be a cougar swimming in the water. They are the source of the above photographs.

“I really think people need to be aware that these cats are out there,” said Potter. “You can see in the picture that somebody’s dock is in the background. When we went around the end of the island after we took the picture, we saw people out in their yard. People are out camping, they have kids and pets, they could be in trouble if a cat is close by, they need to be aware of them for their own safety. I reported the cat to the MNR, who tried to tell me it was a lynx or a bobcat, but the tail was way too long to be a bobcat, I know it was a cougar.”

Local MNR ?officials were not able to provide an official response on the matter and requests to the Ministry for an official response (as per the MNR policy) did not return a response in time for this week’s paper.

Should you see a large animal and would like to report it, the first step is to contact the local biologist in the area. From there, the biologist will be able to confirm or deny the identity of the animal and take the appropriate next steps. The biologist would take DNA samples from hair or scat to further investigate.

It is also noted that bobcats and cougars look very similar, but Potter is convinced what she saw was a cougar.

Skeptics may argue that it’s difficult to judge distance when you see something in the water because there’s no reference point as there is on land. When an animal is swimming, it doesn’t have to have a tail to create a wake, so misjudgment can arise in determining the size of an animal.

Another frequent counterargument in such cases is that wildlife photos which circulate on the Internet are very often mislabeled in respect to the geographic location.

Another opinion is that the cougar could be an escapee from a wildlife sanctuary, or farm, or a stowaway on a rail car.

However, Potter is firm in her belief that what she saw was indeed a cougar.

As it stands, in the MNR’s Wildlife Guide of Northwestern Ontario, cougars are not listed. At least not yet.

A rear view of the large cat as it swam for shore.


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