Police and the Ministry of Natural Resources are playing a game of cat and bear.
Reports came in to the Thunder Bay Police Service early Tuesday morning that the supposed cougar was at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. City police officials say the cat had approached staff members going into the hospital and had acted aggressively before escaping into a nearby wooded area.
Photographs posted Monday on Facebook showed a large cat on the Lakehead University campus. But the cat in those photographs appeared to have features more common with a lynx; however no expert in the field has been able to comment on these photographs.
Dave St. Amand took the pictures Sunday around 8:30 a.m. at Lakehead University. He said he was out picking mushrooms for a class he teaches at the college. Given what he had witnessed, there was no doubt in his mind that the animal in the photo was a lynx.
“It’s a very large lynx,” St. Amand said. “It’s about three and a half feet long. It has a short tail, about eight inches long and two and a half inches thick. It has tuffs on its ears where a cougar doesn’t and long sideburns. It’s a lynx.”
St. Amand added he’s spent plenty of time in the bush and wasn’t worried about the big cat.
Meanwhile, city police spokesman Chris Adams said officers can only go on what witnesses have reported. Many of the witnesses who spotted the cat have described it with a long thick tail, which is a description that resembles a cougar.
“A lynx or other animals some may confuse with a cougar don’t match that description,” Adams said.
“There’s really not a lot of expertise in the province with dealing with large cats. There’s a possibility we may have to go out of province for some advice. The MNR have been helping the best they can with the knowledge they have.”
Adams said if the animal was showing aggressive behaviour instead of being reclusive, then there is cause for some concern.
But a large cat isn’t the only mammal police are on the lookout for. Police are also searching for an injured bear.
Police believe the bear and the reported cougar are in close proximately to each other.
Adams added that the bear is reportedly small with a wounded leg and was also spotted in the same area as the reported cougar.
“These two animals, for whatever reason, seem to be traveling in close proximately to each other,” he said. “It is possible that the cougar is stalking the bear but we won’t really know for sure until we reach some kind of conclusion here.”
The multiple sightings forced police to step up their patrols on the hospital grounds and in the areas of Junot Avenue and John Street,
Lakehead University and Confederation College.
Adams said the intercity area has a large wooded area meaning the animals have plenty of green space to move around in.
“It’s a pretty interesting scenario that’s developing,” he said.
“The injured bear is going to pose some potentially pretty big risks. Our main priority is trying to keep the public safe. Unfortunately, sometimes animals have to be put down for the greater safety.”
Some residents who spoke with tbnewswatch.com at the hospital had mix feelings with the animals being so close.
Marlene Yurick wanted to know why they were so close to the hospital and said she hoped that they were caught soon.
“It is a concern,” Yurick said. “I’m a golfer and I’ve had a bear right behind me before. Maybe the cougar injured the bear or maybe it was hit by a car. I hope they catch it.”
One man who refused to give his name said he saw cougars at the hospital about two years ago.
“I saw its eyes,” he said. “I don’t feel safe going near the bush. There’s way too much wildlife near people.”
Although not everyone was as concerned that the animals were close by.
Arja Ojanpera and her husband Kauko both agreed that the animals were far too close to where people are, yet didn’t concern them.
“They are more scared of us then we are of them,” Ojanpera said. “I don’t know, maybe they are after the deer. Maybe they are already gone.”
Kauko, who hunts, said he was surprised that a cougar was spotted in town especially since it’s incredibly rare to see one even in the bush.
In a bit of lightheartedness Tuesday, Twitter accounts were set up for the elusive animals, who bantered back and forth poking fun at the situation. Follow them here: @tbayCougar; @tbayLynx and @tbay_bear.
NOTE TO READERS: This news story has undergone significant changes since it was first published. Comments below may refer to details published in those earlier versions.