BIGHORN – Dogs chasing cats is a tale as old as time, but it is not everyday you find a cougar stuck in a tree at a wolfdog sanctuary.
Yet that is exactly what happened Thursday (Nov. 21) when Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary, located 14 kilometres west of Cochrane in the MD of Bighorn, officials were notified from a visitor who saw the big cat stuck in a tree in one of the wolfdog enclosures.
“Why it decided to enter the enclosure, we have no idea, but once he was in there, he regretted that decision really quickly – we have no idea how long he was in there,” executive director Georgina De Caigny explained over the phone.
“It was one of our visitors who was walking around our sanctuary who actually spotted it up in the tree … as far as we could see the wolfdogs had zero interest and the cougar looked freaked out and didn’t want anything to do with them either.”
Stuck in a tree in the Galatea enclosure with Freya, the high-content wolfdog and Odin, the mid-content wolfdog – who both came from an organization in Smithers, B.C. – De Caigny explained it was not an easy task to navigate.
First, officials called fish and wildlife conservation officers, in the hopes of them darting the cougar and relocating it. But after being informed the officers were not able to make it to the sanctuary that day, the executive director then turned to a colleague with more than four decades experience in rehabilitation and releasing wildlife, for advice on the unique situation.
“I ended up chatting with Clio [Smeeton] from the Cochrane Research Institute, who talked about building a sort of bridge for the cougar,” De Caigny said.
Needing to create something the big cat could utilize, but the wolfdog could not, the staff at the sanctuary found some deadfall trees, stacking a trunk on each side of the enclosure and meeting in the middle.
“We then had to do the most stressful thing, I thought, which was leave it like that over night and hope the cougar decides to leave,” De Caigny said.
Returning the next morning (Friday, Nov. 22), the staff let out a sigh of relief when the saw the cougar was gone and the wolfdogs were unharmed.
“It was a perfect solution for the cat and … it was a huge relief to be able to resolve this in a non-lethal manner,” De Caigny said.
It was not the first time the sanctuary experienced a big cat in a wolfdog enclosure incident. De Caigny said they had a similar situation a couple of years ago with a cougar.
“Two years ago, we had a very similar incident with a cougar stuck in an enclosure, but it was a vacant enclosure … we were able to just open the gate and let it out while this time was a bit more stressful. Freya and Odin are untouchable, so we couldn’t just take them out of the gate – we had to take the risk and hope [the cougar] would do the smart thing and just leave, which he did,” De Caigny said.
A fortunate fate for the wolfdogs. Earlier this year, 38 sheep were killed in a rural farm enclosure south of Cochrane and an off-leash dog was also killed on a popular hiking trail near Canmore in October – in both incidents, cougars were later shot and killed by wildlife officials.
In this case, De Caigny said she was grateful the staff was able to find a peaceful solution.
“We think it is important to problem-solve and find non-lethal ways to deal with other predators,” De Caigny said.
“One of the things we strive for is proper ways to co-exist with wildlife. I think a lot of people, their first reaction would be to kill the cougar, when it is worth the effort to do what we can for the wildlife and our domestic animals.”