New Year’s Eve was an especially memorable one for Chris Maley, who lives southwest of Thunder Bay, Ont.
At about 3:45 a.m. on Dec. 31, 2020, a mature cougar walked by just 180 metres from his home in the Slate River Valley.
The wild cat was captured on a remote trail camera that was placed on a tree.
“There’s a strip of bush, you know, running between the property and the wooded areas that the farmers can’t work,” said Maley. “And I’ve set up a couple of trail cameras there.”
As he does most days, Maley was out walking his dogs first thing in the morning on New Year’s Eve and pulled the SD cards on the trail cameras.
He said he saw large cat tracks in the fresh snow near one of the cameras, but assumed they were from an oversized lynx.
He returned to the house, grabbed a coffee and plugged one of the SD cards into the computer.
Maley said he scrolled through several short videos, but the last one had something on it he had never seen before: a mature cougar.
Maley said he could barely believe his eyes.
“‘Unbelievable.’ That’s what I kept on saying,” said Maley. “Unbelievable. Like in Princess Bride. Inconceivable.”
Maley, who has lived in the Slate River Valley for more than six decades, said he had never seen a live cougar before.
But he said there was no doubt the animal he had on his trail camera was a cougar.
“I knew right away what it was,” Maley said. “I’ve seen cats before and pussycats. And that was no pussycat. There’s no mistaking it.”
In the video, which Maley shared with CBC, the large cat can be seen slowly walking through the snow in the dark. It pauses, and a long tail is clearly visible.
The video is 15 seconds long, but the cat is visible throughout, its eyes shining.
Another video Maley shared with the CBC shows a coyote running in the same spot on the same camera several days earlier.
While this cougar video is a rare confirmed example of the presence of cougars in the northwest, it is not the first.
On March 25, 2017, the carcass of a cougar was found frozen in a snowbank on Boreal Road, northwest of Thunder Bay. The animal was emaciated and had likely died due to starvation. That cougar had a large number of porcupine quills in its snout, mouth and throat.
It was the first confirmed wild cougar carcass found in Ontario.
The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources seized the carcass and had the animal tested. The DNA results showed it was closely related to animals from the region of the Black Hills of Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska.
The OMNRF said at the time that the animal found dead was not part of a resident cougar population in northern Ontario.
Cougar are considered an endangered species in the province.
In the fall of 2020, two pictures of a cougar said to be from a trail camera near Lappe, northwest of Thunder Bay, made the rounds on social media, but they were unattributed.
The video from Dec. 31, 2020, shows what looks to be a very large and healthy cougar.
Maley said despite the close proximity of the cat to his home, he is not concerned.
“I’m quite sure it was just passing through,” said Maley.”It’s not hanging around here.”