A Whitehorse man escaped with scrapes and a possible broken jaw after a cougar pounced on him while he was hiking in the Kusawa Lake area last Sunday.
Garry Scheer was out camping over the long weekend and took three children of friends and a pair of dogs out for an afternoon walk through the hills in the area.
While the party was returning to their camp, one of the dogs become spooked and ran ahead.
At that point, Scheer recounted in an interview Wednesday, the hikers heard noises coming from some nearby bushes.
“I kind of caught something out of the corner of my eye,” said the experienced hunter and hiker. “I figured it could have been a bear or something.”
As the remaining dog began growling, Scheer told the young hikers to get moving.
Out of fear, one of the kids started to run, but Scheer said “Calm down, don’t run too fast, don’t make too quick a move.”
Now alone, Scheer could see the animal getting closer and closer, until it leaped out of the bushes at him.
“It was a cougar - I know what they look like,” said Scheer.
The cougar pounced on Scheer, reared up on its hind legs and then toppled over. It then backhanded Scheer with a paw to the head that sent him flying. The big cat pounced on Scheer again.
“I kind of grabbed it by the armpits and tried to wrestle it, but it was almost futile.”
Scheer said he managed to throw the animal off of him and then, taking his walking stick, whacked it over the head, but with little effect.
“He knocked me down again and tried to drag me into the bush and I kind of kicked and moved around. It (the cougar) got loose and was ready to pounce on me again, and I got my stick and shoved it in its belly.
The winded cat made a low moan and sat there panting, allowing Scheer to make his escape. "I got up and high-tailed it."
With a last look, Scheer saw the cougar get up and move back into the bush.
Scheer spent Sunday camped at Kusawa Lake, but when he woke up Monday morning his face was so swollen he could barely see out of one eye.
On his return to Whitehorse Monday evening, Scheer went to the hospital for x-rays. As of Wednesday afternoon, he was still waiting to hear about the condition of his swollen jaw.
“I’ve got a few pock marks in me and my clothes are shredded to s--t, but other than that I’m alive,” reflected Scheer.
While there have been cougar sightings in the territory over the past few years, and a pig was suspected of being killed by a cougar in the Golden Horn area several years ago, the Department of Renewable Resources said Scheer’s encounter was the first of its kind.
Department spokesperson Dennis Senger said the cougar may have left the Kusawa Lake area by now, but he encouraged people planning to camp there to exercise caution, particularly if they have young children.
A pair of conservation officers from Whitehorse went to the Kusawa area today to warn a group of students and teachers who are currently on a camping trip there.
Senger said that if people do encounter a cougar they should treat it just as they would a bear. Back away from the animal, he said, but remember that unlike a bear, the cougar may come forward. If the cat advances and there is no way to back up, the best defence is to grab something to hit the animal.
Cougars are not indigenous to the Yukon, so Renewable Resources suspects that the cats’ arrival can be attributed to two factors. The first is the cats’ following of the white-tail deer population, which is growing in the territory because it is a protected species. Second, the cats are probably being displaced from their traditional territory in British Columbia and migrating north.
Anybody spotting a cougar is encouraged to call Renewable Resources.
By Star Reporter John McHutchion