Hinton wildlife officers kill two cougars after attacks on dogs

Two young cougars believed to be responsible for two recent attacks on dogs in Hinton, Alta., have been shot and killed by wildlife officials.

"To ensure public safety, we had to take that difficult choice to euthanize these animals," Chris Watson, Fish and Wildlife officer for the Hinton district told CBC on Friday.

The attacks happened Sunday, Jan. 5, not far from Beaver Boardwalk, a walking trail near Maxwell Lake in the town of Hinton, about 285 kilometres west of Edmonton.

The first attack happened around 3:30 p.m. as a woman walked her dog near the boardwalk.

The dog was on a leash and the woman fended off the cougar by kicking at it, Watson said. The woman and dog were unhurt.

A short time later not far away, a woman was in a yard with her dog when a cougar attacked, he said. The woman called to her husband and a neighbour.

"They were throwing items at the cat and they were able to get the cat off the dog," Watson said.

The dog was taken to a veterinarian and was treated for puncture wounds, he said.

Hinton RCMP closed Beaver Boardwalk and warned area residents, he said.

Chris Watson

Wildlife officers returned to the area the next morning with a team of dogs to search for the cougars.

A fresh snowfall overnight made it easier to follow the animals tracks, Watson said.

Officers quickly determined there were two sets of tracks indicating they were looking for two cougars.

Tracks were found in people's yards, in the areas where the two dogs were attacked, and tracks showed the cougars had been "looking through windows into the houses," Watson said.

The first cougar was discovered in about five minutes.

"[The officers] were able to jump one of these male cougars that was bedded right along the walking path, 20 yards behind the residences," Watson said. 

The cougar was treed and an officer shot the animal.

The tracking dogs located the second cougar several hours later east of the area and it too was shot and killed.

'Dealing with an animal that kills'

"This is one of the worst parts of the job," said Watson, who has been a wildlife officer for 27 years. 

If a cougar shows aggressive behaviour toward people or dogs, relocating the animal is not an option.

"We're dealing with an animal that kills, that has to kill basically on a weekly basis to survive," Watson said. "We assess their behaviour, we assess their movements."

In this case, he said the two cougars were juvenile males around 16 months old, likely brothers recently pushed out of the den by their mother. 

"Often times some of our most difficult times as humans is when we're leaving home for the first time," Watson said. "It's no different for these animals. They're experiencing life on their own for the first time and unfortunately they made a choice here that put them into a conflict situation with people."

Incidents involving cougars are "fairly common" in the Hinton area, Watson said.

The district gets about 15 complaints — anything from a sighting to an attack involving a cougar — every year.