COCHRANE, Alta. – Wildlife officers in Alberta are investigating tips they’ve received after posting a photograph of a cougar carcass they say was illegally killed and abandoned in an area west of Calgary.
The photo, which was posted to the Alberta Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Facebook page on Saturday, shows the young cat dead in the snow that was taken late last month near Ghost Lake.
The post says a campfire was still burning and a pair of work gloves were left behind.
Hunting cougars, while controversial, is not illegal in Alberta but there are rules.
“In Alberta, it is unlawful to abandon the skin of a mountain lion that has been hunted. Furthermore, the cougar season was closed in the relevant cougar management area at the time of the offence,” the Facebook post states.
The person responsible could face up to a $50,000 fine as well as one year in jail.
Thousands of people shared the post by Sunday afternoon and hundreds posted responses.
Some people expressed hope that the gloves might yield DNA evidence, and Alberta Fish and Wildlife Enforcement responded that officers thoroughly examined the scene.
“In general, in order for any DNA evidence to be used, a suspect would need to be identified, and then we could see if there is a match between the two,” the department responded on Facebook.
A statement by Mark Hoskin, a fish and wildlife officer in the Cochrane district, said the cougar was shot west of Cochrane, Alta., on Feb. 21, in the afternoon. The area was south of the Ghost River, about five kilometres from where the river enters Ghost Lake.
Hoskin said the cougar was a sub-adult that weighed less than 100 pounds.
“Poaching is obviously illegal and dangerous, and it takes away wildlife that would otherwise remain part of the province’s environment,” Hoskin said in the statement.
Hoskin said in an email that interest in the post has generated tips that are being followed up on.
Justice and Solicitor General spokesman Dan Laville said that for investigative purposes, further details on the case would not be released.
Many people on social media expressed their outrage at the suspected poachers while others debated cougar hunting. Still others suggested whoever killed the cat may have acted in self-defence.
“There’s way too many cats and too few permits given out,” one person wrote on Facebook.
“You do realize they are predators, right?”
Alberta has regulated its cougar population since 1969. An annual quota allows up to 155 animals to be hunted each year.
The province estimates there are 2,000 to 3,500 cougars.
In December outdoor television host Steve Ecklund received online threats and criticisms — including a comment from Laureen Harper, wife of former prime minister Stephen Harper — when he bragged on social media about hunting a cougar in Alberta.
Both the government’s top carnivore expert and a University of Alberta biologist have said it’s a sustainable population that must be managed because cougars can prey on cattle or become a public safety risk.
Last summer, Alberta wildlife officers killed a cougar that wandered onto a golf course in southeast Calgary.
But Chris Darimont, associate professor of geography at the University of Victoria, has noted that science shows there are risks in overharvesting, because it’s tough to count carnivores and get a clear picture of the population.