Cougar warning issued for town of Banff after increase in sightings

WATCH: Parks Canada has issued a cougar warning for the Banff townsite and surrounding areas. As Jackie Wilson reports, the warning comes after several sightings of a large cat.

Banff National Park issued a cougar warning for its tourist town on Monday, warning people of an “increase in carnivore activity and sightings” in the area after an animal aggressively approached a dog walker on Sunday.

“A cougar had killed a mule deer on the edges of town — but within town — and nobody had seen the cat but we removed the carcass,” said Dan Rafla, human-wildlife coexistence specialist for Banff National Park, on Tuesday.

“As expected, the cat returned to its kill… Nearby, there was an individual walking their dog and they encountered likely that same cat and at a fairly close proximity. The cat followed that individual with their dog for a short while before breaking off and fleeing.”

Rafla said there have been at least six cougar sightings since Jan. 6.

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“This time of year, as winter sets in, it’s not totally unusual to have a higher number of observations of cougars around town. Their prey tends to be more concentrated in the valley bottom where the townsite is, and so the predators will follow,” he explained.

“In the last week, we have had more sightings of cats — a little disconcerting when you have them during the daytime; they tend to be more active at night and avoid people, which tends to be good.

Rafla wants residents and visitors to be more aware of these situations so they can “adapt their behaviour to prevent any unnecessary risk and minimize any negative encounters.”

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The park reminded people to keep all dogs on leash, travel in groups, carry bear spray and avoid travelling at dawn or dusk when wildlife is most active.

“Don’t wear earbuds if you go for a run or a ski, so you’re paying attention,” Rafla said.

“Even with COVID, if you can travel in a group but distance space, obviously, that’s very helpful as well.”

What to do in a cat encounter

If you come across a cougar, the park advises that you retreat slowly — don’t run or play dead — and be aggressive and loud so you convey that you are a “formidable opponent,” Rafla said.

“You want to actually be firm, face the cougar, stand tall never approach the cougar,” he said.

“If you have any children around you, bring them close. Same with pets. If you’re in a group, obviously, get closer together to look more intimidating because that’s the end goal, is to look more intimidating to that animal and speak to it in a firm and calm voice.

Banff National Park pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

Banff National Park pictured on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021.

Jackie Wilson/Global News

If the cougar approaches, “elevate yourself and become more aggressive,” Rafla said.

“You may pick something up and lift it up high above your head just to look intimidating to that animal,” he said. “That’s what you’re trying to convey, is that you are strong and not something to be messed with.”

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Contact Banff park dispatch at 403-762-1470 if you see cougar activity.

The last human fatality from a cougar attack was in 2001, according to Rafla.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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