Banff officials hunt for cougar that man fought off with skateboard

BANFF, Alta. - Parks Canada officials are advising people in Banff to be on alert after a man told them he fought off an attacking cougar with his skateboard.

Bill Hunt, the resource conservation manager for the Banff field unit, said the man was attacked Thursday and originally reported the incident anonymously.

But Hunt said officials tracked him down to get more information in order to find the cougar.

"I think he was reluctant to contact us right away because he'd be in trouble for striking an animal inside a national park. But of course, in that situation you're in defence mode and it's totally appropriate," Hunt explained Sunday.

Hunt said the man told them he was listening to music through earbuds while walking between the townsite and an industrial area when the cougar attacked.

"He was hit from behind, knocked to the ground and instantly reacted properly. With a cougar, the correct thing to do is fight back hard and convince that cougar that you're not going to be available for prey," Hunt said.

"He was carrying his skateboard, so he used that skateboard in defence of himself and was able to hit the cougar with it, which stunned the animal and he was able to get away."

Remarkably, Hunt said the man wasn't injured. He said the man was fit and young, and was fairly tall, which he said probably worked in his favour.

Hunt said officials are tracking the cougar and hope to capture it.

"Right now we're kind of in a heightened state of alert," he said.

A wildlife bulletin issued by Parks Canada says there has also been a report of a cougar chasing a deer in the Banff townsite.

Park officials are restricting access to an area north of the townsite where the attack occurred and say violators risk a fine of up to $5,000.

A Canmore woman was killed by a cougar in 2001 while she was cross-country skiing near Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park.

Cougars are normally very wary and selective of their prey, Hunt said, living on deer, elk and other animals. He explained that one might take exceptional risks by coming closer to people if it had experienced a difficult winter.

Hunt said park officials aren't sure if it's one cougar or more, yet. Scat that's been collected will be analysed for DNA evidence, he said. Cameras are being set up on bridges and he said hounds are also being used.

If it's caught, Hunt said it may have to be destroyed.

"No decisions have been made yet. But If we're certain it's the same animal that attacked this gentleman then it's definitely a candidate for destruction, just because that's such unusual behaviour for a cougar, it's a difficult thing to risk that re-occurring," he said.

Hunt said if they catch an animal and it isn't the one that attacked the man, it may be released elsewhere, although he said it's difficult to find a safe place to release a cougar.

Parks Canada says people should travel in groups and keep a careful eye on children to avoid cougar encounters. People should also avoid travelling during dawn and dusk, and pets should be kept on leashes, officials say.

Carrying bear spray, making noise, and leaving the area if an animal carcass is discovered are other tips that Parks Canada says should be followed.

Listening to music is not a good idea, Hunt said.

"That's one thing we advise people, especially right now, not to do. Don't wear your earbuds if you're outside around Banff. You want to be able to be alert to your surroundings," he said.