Boaters watch cougar attack 0
By Justin Brisbane & Shawn Slaght
After witnessing a cougar attack and kill a bighorn sheep a mere 20 feet from where they were sitting, five Banff visitors have a story they won't soon forget.
Shawn Geniole, Kayla Pronger, Tahni Phillips, Paige Baker and Chris Phillips were bobbing along in a 12-foot aluminum boat, enjoying a pleasant day on Lake Minnewanka. Their gas gauge running low, they stopped the boat to get a proper reading.
What they saw next was a sight very few ever get the chance to see.
"We were about 10 to 20 feet from shore when one of the girls shouted 'What's that?' " said Geniole. "I thought maybe they saw an elk, but when we saw it was a cougar, everybody was freaking out. We were almost tipping the boat."
The animal was about six feet in length, excluding the tail and in good health - about 200 lbs. It was obviously stalking something, its paw poised, its body close to the ground. Ravens were already circling overhead, Geniole said, anticipating the attack.
A little farther down the lake, the crew spotted two bighorn sheep rutting, another fascinating sight.
"We were watching them and thought, where did the cougar go?" said Geniole. "And then we saw him, perched right above the rams."
The cougar was a mere five feet above the first ram, who was licking some salt on the rocky shore.
Just as the cougar prepared to pounce, the first ram detected danger and fled down the beach. The cougar still didn't move, Geniole said.
The second ram, which had moved to the water to get a drink, put his head up but stayed in the area. It sniffed the air and moved over to where the first ram had been standing - five metres away from the cougar.
"It's muscles tensed, and the cougar took him down," said Geniole. "It dragged the cougar for a little ways, but he pinched the ram's neck and suffocated it."
The crew was struggling to photograph the entire attack, as its batteries died. The bloodied cougar then spotted the boat only 10 feet from the shore.
"The cougar looks at us, covered in blood and is panting," Geniole said. "It then went into a cliff and waited into the shade. We knew what an amazing thing we saw - protocol went out the window."
"As he got on top of the sheep, he kept looking and staring at us and panting. It was pretty scary," Phillips said.
One of the crew mates sent a message on the radio that there had been a cougar kill. One of the Brewster boats in the area radioed back, calling if anyone had been hurt. Geniole said the radio batteries went dead, and all of the boats on Lake Minnewanka that had been listening to the radio immediately sped towards the small aluminium boat. A Brewsters tour boat arrived, and the crew saw the cougar, still waiting in the shade for the chaos on the water to settle down. About 15 tourists on the boat also caught a glimpse of the cougar.
"We were freaking out when the whole thing was happening," Geniole said. "Now, we'll be a little more cautions when we're out there.
Banff National Park human-wildlife conflict specialist Steve Michel said he was amazed at this particular attack.
"For visitors to observe some like this, with a cougar taking down another animal, is extremely rare," said Michel.
Parks Canada did not close the Lake Minnewanka trail loop.
Michel said the incident occurred in the evening hours near a hiking trail, but there wasn't enough time to close down the trail.
"It was during the evening hours went we took the report. We sent a warden out to check it out. He moved the carcass to the other side of the lake because it was close to a hiking trail," Michel said.
This cougar is known to park officials as it did have an ear tag. Michel said tends to move around in the Lake Minnewanka area, but hasn't been a threat to any people yet.
He added that the best precaution against cougars, like bears, is to be prepared. This includes not traveling alone in the backcountry, keeping children close by, leave pets at home, make noise, be aware of your surroundings and know the signs of bear and cougar activity.
If anyone seeing any cougar or bear activity are asked to call Banff National Park Dispatch at 762-1470.
Geniole and his boatmates, it's a story they won't soon forget.
"This was a pretty amazing thing to see."