The long asked question of whether cougars exist in northwestern Ontario may have been answered.
On Saturday, March 25, 2017, Mandi Weist, of Thunder Bay, and three of her friends, were driving on the Boreal Road on their way to do some target practice in a gravel pit. They saw a van pulled over on the side of the road and stopped to check on them.
Weist and friends inquired if the folks in the van were ok. They answered, “Yes, we are just looking at the mountain lion.”
Weist and her friends piled out of their jeep to see a cougar partially frozen into some snow.
“We were shocked” said Weist, of the find. “We had driven by the spot before and assumed it was a deer dead in the snow.”
Knowing it was an extremely rare find, Weist and company loaded the dead cougar onto their vehicle and brought it into Thunder Bay.
Weist contacted the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF) via online service and got a confirmation number for the dead cougar.
Cougar carcass found on March 25 on Boreal Road, north west of Thunder Bay. | MANDI WEIST
They had also been talking to taxidermist Dan Cavicchiolo and decided to bring the cat to Boreal Tales Taxidermy on Hwy 61, south west of Thunder Bay.
“It definitely is a cougar,” said Cavicchiolo. “Full grown male cougar. “
Cavicchiolo said the animal had long claws and good teeth, but was emaciated.
“It was in really bad shape when I skinned it. Very thin,” he said. “It weighed about 80 pounds, but it was all skin and bones. It seems like it died of natural causes.”
Cavicchiolo removed between 50 and 75 porcupine quills from the cougars shoulder and nose, but there were none in its mouth.
The day after they found the cougar, Weist took an OMNRF conservation officer to the site where they found the animal. Weist said the CO told them they could not keep any part of the animal because it is endangered in Ontario, and therefore not legal to have.
Weist said she was told the animal would be displayed for educational purposes.
Cougar paw compared with the hand of Mandi Weist. | MANDI WEIST
Jolanta Kowalski, a communications specialist with the OMNRF said the animal carcass was in their possession and would be DNA tested to confirm whether it was a wild cougar, or a domesticated pet that had been released. She said the ministry had not decided what would be done with the mount. A Vice Principal at the Public School board has already pitched having the animal displayed at an outdoor education centre they operate at Kingfisher Lake, on Hwy 527.
For her part, Weist said she and her friends were disappointed they couldn’t keep the mount, but happy they had helped potentially solve a mystery.
“They said it was the very first confirmed mountain lion carcass in Ontario,” said Weist. “It’s pretty neat. It is a special find.”
By Gord Ellis
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