Encounters with the Eastern Cougar
Barry L. Hatt
There is something almost magic
about growing up hearing that there are actual wild cats living in your small
part of the world. Seldom seen by humans, these fleeting ghosts open wide
vistas in the imagination of rural New Brunswickers.
more than fifty years the Department of Natural Resources and Energy listed the
last confirmed sighting of the eastern cougar as 1939. Recent sightings as well
as hair samples have shown that the cougar still calls New Brunswick its home.
The fact that it took that many years to prove that the eastern cougar still
resides here shows their great resiliency and need for privacy.
My very own cougar stories began as a boy growing up in
L'Etang, Charlotte County, just south of St. George on Rte. 172. L'Etang is one
of those small rural communities that you could easily miss if you blinked
while passing through. L'Etang also claims one of the deepest natural harbours
in Canada, which now protect many aquiculture sites. In the early 1960s fishing
and lumber were the main stay of employment.
encounter with a cougar was really quite simple. I had awakened from a sound
sleep and was trying to go back to sleep in the wee hours of the morning when I
heard a distant, terrifying scream. The hair on the back of my neck stood up
and a chill ran the length of my body. I didn't sleep very soundly for the rest
of the night and when I explained to my mother what I had heard the next
morning she explained that I had probably heard a cougar scream.
A cougar scream is very distinctive but hard to explain.
To me it is best described as a bonechilling scream for help from a mother or a
child, magnified 10 times.
My next encounter with the
cougar was much more personal and even more frightening. It was late summer in
1964. There were four of us who were going to sleep in the hay mow in Wayne
Patterson's grandfather's barn; Eugene Anderson, Blaine Hatt, Wayne and I. It
was all innocent enough until someone got the idea that we should make a late
night call on Bev Leavitt's garden. Bev always had a large and bountiful garden
and we didn't think he would miss a few peas and carrots. I would have felt
somewhat guilty for that misdemeanor if we had ever made it to the
We waited until the lights went out across the
road. The night was partially overcast with intermittent visits from the moon;
a perfect night for a raid. Eugene and Blaine decided to stay in the barn while
Wayne and I made the visit. We stealthily snuck down the lane and across the
road. There was a stand of apple trees that we felt we could sneak around and
come up behind the house and the garden without
We had just started down the hill to I start
our commando run when that big cat let out a blood curdling scream, just a
short distance from our position.
We both froze where we
were. In unison we turned to stare at one another. The terror that I felt was
mirrored on Wayne's face. Again in unison we turned to flee as fast as our legs
and adrenaline could carry us.
I always felt afterwards
that Wayne should have run for the school track team because he beat me back to
the barn and I knew that I broke all existing records that night. Wayne
pole-vaulted up into the barn as I scrambled up behind him. Our companions had
heard the scream as well and, needless to say, we did not sleep much that
night. Every creak of the barn or stomp of the horses' hooves was evidence that
the cougar was coming for us.
It was not until the summer
of 1969 that I finally got a look at the animal that had instilled such terror
in my youth.
A new section of Rte. 1 was being built
between St. George and Pennfield Ridge,. Although it was not yet open to the
public, a person could get onto the almost finished section if he knew where to
One evening I passed the barriers, heading towards
St.George, and just before I arrived at the Upper L'Etang crossing, one of the
cougars that had so terrified me went across the highway in front of me.
Because it was black, I thought at first that it was a Labrador Retriever, but
quickly realized it was a cougar. It had a long tail and did not bound like a
dog does, but flowed, and was gone in a flash. No dog ever moved that fast.
It was one of the most beautiful animals I have ever
Since that summer I have heard many other reports of
people seeing the eastern cougar. It wisely stays as far away from mankind as
it can, and those fortunate enough to get a glimpse of one receive a gift far
beyond the earthly treasures we seek. My encounters with the cougar have..
changed my life.
There is still a great deal of mystery
concerning the eastern cougar. Confirmed sightings are almost nonexistent. If
You can supply hair samples, scat samples, paw prints or photographic evidence
that there are still cougars in New Brunswick, please do so. Natural Resources
and Energy would like to have that evidence.
To keep the
eastern cougar on the Endangered Species List ample evidence has to be supplied
to show that it, is still here.
I, like many New
Brunswickers, know that the cougar is still with us. Let us honour its desire
for privacy and treat it with the respect that this noble creature deserves. It
truly is one our natural resources.
This story was first published in the October 13
issue of the Telegraph Journal, Weekend Reader.Barry Hatt lives in Dumfries.
If you have any cougar stories that you would like to share, his e-mail address