Advertisement

Canmore wildlife photographer documenting cougars gets heartbreaking news

Click to play video: 'Sad ending to incredible experience for professional wildlife photographer' Sad ending to incredible experience for professional wildlife photographer
WATCH: John Marriott has spent 31 days this winter tracking cougars for a large conservation project. But as Jayme Doll reports, one experience went from sheer joy to heartbreak – Mar 4, 2021

He has sat in the shadows of too many wolf packs to count, he’s even walked with the enormous grizzly bear they call The Boss. But Canmore professional wildlife photographer and co-founder of EXPOSED Wildlife Conservancy, John Marriott, said nothing was quite like the two days he spent this winter with a mother cougar and her kitten.

“It was the most amazing thing ever,” he said.

“The kitten would chase squirrels and they would come in and eat the deer and I could hear them crunching the bone. There are no real words to describe it,” said Marriott, walking along a snow-packed trail just outside of Canmore.

Read more: Southern Alberta 12-year-old recognized internationally for wildlife photography

Story continues below advertisement

Marriott has been tracking cougars with hopes of gathering photographs and video for a conservation project he is working on about the elusive species and the struggles they face.

He said in his 30-year career, he has only seen five cougars. His time with the mama and kitten was both precious and rare.

“I kept my distance, paid a lot of respect to her, had my bear spray, but she was never aggressive in any manner,” said Marriott.

He explained he has walked away many times from animals who weren’t comfortable in his presence.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: wildlife photographers create eye-catching animal masks to benefit rescue groups' COVID-19: wildlife photographers create eye-catching animal masks to benefit rescue groups
COVID-19: wildlife photographers create eye-catching animal masks to benefit rescue groups – Jan 11, 2021

“They literally are right beside us all the time and they are probably watching us constantly, yet you think back 100 years, and there’s been one person killed by a cougar in all of Alberta,” he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“They are truly the predator that co-exists the closest to us and that we have the most potential for conflict with and yet we hardly see them.”

Every once in a while, typically in winter, a cougar does wonder into the Banff townsite. Parks Canada euthanized an eight-year-old female  cougar in January after it took down a deer in town and had an encounter with a resident and their dog.

Read more: Cougar that approached man and his dog in Banff was euthanized

Not too long after, Parks decided to collar another cougar, that had been active just on the outskirts of town, to track her movements. Unfortunately she died after being immobilized.

“Exceptionally rare to happen and it certainly wasn’t our intention. It was totally keep her alive on the landscape make our job a little easier by having a GPS collar on her and releasing her but unfortunately that didn’t happen this time,” said Dan Rafla a wildlife management specialist with Parks Canada.

Rafla said, of about 1,000 animals immobilized in Banff National Park over the years, five haven’t survived.

Parks Canada found the second cougar’s kitten hours before they live-trapped its mother. The kitten had died of natural causes.

Story continues below advertisement

“She had a perforated stomach — something had cut the inside of her stomach — and she had an infection and the kitten had died naturally from it,” said Rafla, adding the kitten was also recovering from a broken femur.

Click to play video: 'Cougar warning issued for Banff townsite, surrounding area' Cougar warning issued for Banff townsite, surrounding area
Cougar warning issued for Banff townsite, surrounding area – Jan 12, 2021

It turns out the kitten and cougar were the ones Marriott had been photographing.

“I was so emotional. For about a week after that, I couldn’t do a thing. It absolutely crushed me to my core.”

Marriott said he thinks Parks Canada absolutely did the right thing by trying to collar the mother.

“I can’t imagine how hard that must have been for Parks Canada staff to go through,” he said.

“Just goes to show how hard of a life these cougars and big predators have,” Marriott said.

Story continues below advertisement

His project is expected to be done in the fall.

Parks Canada has closed off a large area just outside the townsite and visitors are being asked not to venture off trails.

Sponsored content