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‘Regretful of its decision’: Cougar gets stuck up tree in Cochrane wolfdog enclosure

A cougar hung out at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.
A cougar hung out at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Courtesy: Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary

For employees at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane, Thursday brought an unexpected feline guest.

At about 2 p.m., they found a cougar stuck approximately 30 to 40 feet up a spruce tree.

“He just had himself perched up on some branches so that he could kind of see what was happening,” said Georgina De Caigny, the sanctuary’s executive director, on Saturday.

“I think he was high up enough that he felt safe that nothing could get up there and get him.”

De Caigny said the first priority was ensuring the safety of the two wolfdogs below.

“One of the challenges about the enclosure that the cougar picked was that the two wolfdogs that are in that enclosure are two that are essentially untouchable to us,” she said.

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The sanctuary called Alberta Fish and Wildlife to tranquilize the animal but was told that it was not something they do. Then, they reached out to the Cochrane Ecological Institute​ for advice since the cat couldn’t get out of the enclosure, which is eight-feet tall with two-feet overhangs.

“[CEI president Clio Smeeton] had the great idea to basically lean some trees up against the fence so that the cat could essentially climb over the fence,” De Caigny said.
The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary leaned trees against the fence so the cougar could climb out of the enclosure.
The Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary leaned trees against the fence so the cougar could climb out of the enclosure. Courtesy: Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary

Dogs and cat indifferent

The most difficult thing was to leave the cougar and wolfdogs overnight, De Caigny said.

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“At dawn, when we finally had some light out, I saw that the cat was not in the tree anymore. I actually saw the paw tracks of the cat in the snow that [were] still on the tree. So we could confirm that he did, in fact, leave,” she said.

She said the different species were not interested in each other, explaining that the wolfdogs weren’t stressed or indicating that anything was amiss.

“They were just avoiding the area that the tree was in… I think they understood, too, that the cougar was afraid and the cougar didn’t want to be there,” De Caigny said. “So they kind of knew that the cougar wasn’t a threat to them. It was leaving them alone.”

A cougar hung out at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.
A cougar hung out at Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Courtesy: Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary

She thinks the cougar was waiting for nightfall to be able to slink away.

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“I think he did what any stressed-out cat does, and that’s tree himself, just to keep themselves safe and was probably waiting till dark to move around to that. He was up there for quite a while,” said De Caigny, adding that at some points, the animal seemed relaxed and was napping.

‘Regretful of its decision’

In the five years the sanctuary has been operating at this location, it has had four cougar encounters — none quite this strange.

“This [interaction] was just the oddest one, just based on the fact that the cougar entered an enclosure that actually had wolfdogs in it — it just doesn’t seem like a very good idea,” De Caigny said.

“It was pretty evident that the cat was pretty miserable and regretful of its decision,” she said.

‘Non-lethal way’

De Caigny feels glad they were able to find a “non-lethal way” to deal with the situation.

“It was definitely a very interesting experience and especially based on the fact that it ended really well and that the cougar was able to move on unharmed and that the wolfdogs weren’t negatively affected,” she explained.

A cougar visited Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.
A cougar visited Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Courtesy: Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary

It’s an opportunity to think about how humans coexist with wildlife, De Caigny said.

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“I think a lot of people, their first go-to would be to just shoot the cougar, that kind of thing. Obviously, that’s something that we didn’t want to do,” she said.

“This cougar did not deserve to die for one silly decision.”