The return of the cougar!

Parks Canada researchers make positive ID of fabled "ghost" of New Brunswick forests

Researchers at Fundy National Park of Canada have solid DNA evidence that hair samples taken from two test sites are from cougars, an animal last confirmed in New Brunswick in 1938. These cougars were attracted to "scent posts" resembling large cat scratching posts that were baited with a lure that includes cougar urine. When a cougar comes to investigate the scent, it rubs against the posts, leaving behind hair on Velcro®-like strips attached to the posts. These hairs, collected bimonthly by park warden staff, are the cougar's genetic calling card. Once retrieved, the hairs are sent for DNA analysis at the Laboratoire d'écologie moléculaire et d'évolution, Université de Montréal.

Thought to be extirpated since the early 1900s, the elusive Eastern cougar (Felis concolor cougar) is currently listed on the "data deficient" list of the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The analysis so far does not confirm the population origin of the Fundy cougars. The animals could be a remnant of the Eastern cougar, or an exotic animal that may have escaped or been released into the wild, or a long-distant migrant from the west. What we do know is that this is the first solid evidence that the so-called "ghost" of New Brunswick forests exists.

Warden working at a scent post
Warden working at a scent post
© Parks Canada / C. Clarke / 2003

Unconfirmed cougar sightings have been reported in the area of Fundy National Park since before the park was established in 1948. Today, the many New Brunswickers whose reports of cougar sightings over the years were dismissed as foolish can take some sense of satisfaction from the new findings.

With this information in hand, Parks Canada and its partners will expand and modify its monitoring network of scent posts and remote cameras to capture a greater quantity of higher-quality hair samples for analysis. Fundy National Park is in the second year of an Eastern cougar monitoring program. Similar monitoring programs are also taking place in Kouchibouguac, Cape Breton Highlands, La Mauricie and Forillon National Parks.

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