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Writer's Corner- New Brunswick

Seen in profile or under light conditions, even light-coloured cougars can appear dark.
EASTERN COUGAR REVISITED
By Barry L. Hatt

   Since I first wrote my story of encounters with a cougar, and the story of Vern Garnett, many people have phoned or sent emails telling of their own encounters with the elusive Eastern Cougar. To do the cougar justice and hopefully make DNR people more aware of the many sightings of this magnificent animal I would like to share some of those stories.

   One interesting aspect of these sightings is that none of these people were out looking for cougars. Their surprise and delight at seeing one is very evident in all of their sightings. It too is important to note that all of these sightings are more recent than that of Verns' or of mine.

   In the late spring of 1987 Raymond Polley was leaving his home in Seeley's Cove, about 55km south west of Saint John, because his employment necessitated being on the road early.

   Raymond relates: " One morning on my way to work, I noticed a deer fawn on the edge of the road in the middle of an s-turn section of the road at the base of Brittany Hill. I didn't think it strange, as there was, at that time, a large deer population here. I did take a quick look around, as I drove past, to see if the mother was near. I didn't see her. As I rounded the final part of the turn, still looking for the mother deer, I saw, about 25 yards ahead, a cougar. I was amazed at how big it was. It was just entering the bush on the right side of the road. It was a dark tan colour and had a tail that looked three feet long, with a black tip on it. The feet were huge and it was moving in a stealth mode. I assumed it was tracking the fawn I had seen just a few seconds before.

   Raymond continues: " Well, I may have been from the city, but I know what I saw. It was a cougar and it is something I have never forgotten and will always cherish. They are amazing and beautiful creatures. I hope I see one again someday. I also hope they will be around for my children and grandchildren to see."

   Marilyn Miller and her family were travelling on Hwy. 2, near St. George, in the late 1980s, when a cougar crossed the road in front of them. They were so certain of what they had seen that they stopped at the RCMP building in St. George to report their sighting.

   In the late 1990s, John Burgoyne who lives near Plaster Rock, on Rte. 395, was talking to two people who were sitting in a vehicle at his place of business when a large cougar ran across the road in front of them. The two people in the automobile saw it as well and as John relates: " We all agree, there is no question as to what it was, an Eastern Panther. It was dark coloured with a very long tail."

   On October 9, 1998, while fishing on the Cains River in Northumberland County, Fred Roberts tells his story. " I had the good fortune to see an eastern cougar cross the river. I took a picture of his paw print and tail drag that he left in the hard sand. A copy was sent to the ranger service and another copy is at the museum in Saint John. The Rangers as well as the individual in charge of the museum definitely confirmed that my picture was the paw print and tail drag of an eastern cougar."

   Doug Kelly was travelling along Rte.102, just below the Evandale Ferry when he relates: " I saw what I first thought was a large dog, standing in the middle of the road. As I approached I couldn't understand why the animal wasn't making any effort to get off the Hwy. Coming closer, I thought that the animal must be some sort of specialty breed with long legs and a long tail. However it then turned and looked in my direction and it became very clear that it was not a dog but a cougar."

   "The head seemed small in relation to the remainder of the body. It then stepped off the road showing no great hurry. I looked to see what the attraction for it had been. There was an old building in which there were lots of cats. One of them must have had a litter, as they were all over the road."

   Wil Reinhart is a Real Estate agent who spends a great deal of time on the Highways of New Brunswick. He supports the many sightings with his own: "In the last two years I've seen 2 cougars. In both cases they were crossing the road in front of me, one on the 4 lane highway in Oromocto, the other in Coles Island. I know what I saw, a very long tail attached to a very large cat."

   John McCue is a Project Engineer on the Fredericton - Moncton Highway Project. He relates:" I was just east of Coles Island when a cat-like animal crossed the road in front of my vehicle. I could estimate its' size by the fact that from head to tip of tail was almost ¾'s of the lane width long. The tail was half as long as the body. It was running in a lopping fashion."

   In the spring of 1999 John Currie was the Farm Supervisor at the Kingsclear Reformatory. He was travelling slowly by ½ ton truck, out back of the reformatory when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. He shut off the truck as an unsuspecting cougar walked along the shale pit towards him. He told me: "What struck me first was the colour. It was a deep black, almost shiny, it was about 150 feet from me. If I would have had a camera I could have taken more than a dozen pictures of it."

   John and another worker then looked where he had seen the cougar and found very clear tracks. When he phoned Natural Resources, Which is about a ¼ mile from the reformatory, they told him to cover the tracks with buckets so they could get molds of them later.

   John saw the same animal later in the same vicinity but this time the cougar saw him and with one bound on the road disappeared into the woods.

   He thought that others might think he was seeing things until a work party of inmates, with their guard, surprised the animal defecating on the dam, near the Sugar Camp. Again Natural Resources was informed and the scat sample was taken to DNR for analysis.

   I have been informed by Natural Resources that to date New Brunswick does not have any method to analyse the scat samples and that if they do get them analysed they have to send them away. Most samples are in cold storage.

   Many more people have sent me their stories of encounters with the Eastern Cougar than I can include in this article. Some have seen them crossing in front of their car like Elsie Day on the Todd's Pt. Rd. near St.Stephen or heard their scream like Logan Sackett from Belleisle Creek, a scream that; " sent shivers all over." Kim Nesbit of Tracy also describes hearing the scream: "Every hair on my body stood up and I jumped so hard I cracked my head against the window. It literally sounded like a woman as she fell off a cliff."

   Scott Brinston had an unforgettable Thanksgiving Day in 2001. Scott lives in Willow Grove, on the way to St.Martins. He had just stepped out his patio and not 50 feet away stood an Eastern Cougar. He relates: " The time of day was only around 4:30pm. My wife and mother were there and also saw the cat. I've hunted for over 20 years, have seen Bobcat and Lynx, but this was neither. It was approximately 3 feet long, standing knee high, and was dark brown. Its' tail was 2 ½ feet long, curling at the end. I tried to find hair or tracks but to no avail. This will go down as another unconfirmed sighting, but I know better. I have a much greater respect for my backyard and the woods that surround it. I hope that it won't be long before we get proof so the government will protect the cats environment."

   Many people echo those sentiments. I saved Scott's story for the end because it was significant on many levels. It was a recent sighting. The cougar was seen close up by 3 people. The cougar was probably not full grown which shows that they probably have a healthy existence. That can all change though if we continue to clear-cut and destroy the cougars' habitat.

   These are not all the Eastern Cougar stories that I have received. I thank those that have gotten in touch with me and look forward to more. Let us all do what we can to help Natural Resources become more aware of the necessity of protecting and acknowledging the Eastern Cougars existence.

   If you see or hear a cougar it is an unforgettable moment. Wonder and awe are words that help describe the feeling. For an animal that is on the Endangered Species list I hope that these sightings will help others become aware that the Eastern Cougar is indeed still an active resident of New Brunswick.

Barry Hatt lives in Dumfries. If you have any cougar stories that you would like to share, his e-mail address is blhatt@rogers.com

THE END

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