As a provincial government conservation officer for 37 years, Winston Anstey investigated many sightings of big cats, such as cougars.
But he never found any evidence, leaving Anstey on the fence about whether or not there are cougars in the province.
Until last July, that is.
Anstey, now happily retired, had returned from salmon fishing with two others near Eagle Mountain on the west coast.
“We were on…a forest access road, it’s a remote road that’s 60 kilometres, I guess, very little traffic,” he said in a phone interview. “It was broad daylight, probably around 3 (or) 3:30 p.m., nice clear weather, nice weather.”
As his vehicle descended into a hollow in the road, he thought he saw a young bear. But as he drove up the climb, he quickly fell off the metaphorical fence.
“All three of us shouted at the same time, ‘It’s a cougar!’ wow. What did we just see? It was quite a while,” he said.
All three were stunned, he said
“If it had only been me, I probably wouldn’t have opened my mouth because I would say no one would believe me anyway,” he said.
Lots of interest
Whether people believe it or not, many are clearly interested.
A Facebook group called NL Unidentified Big Cat Sightings has gained 5,500 followers since the start of last year.
Charlie White, a resident of Cold Brook on the West Coast, is a moderator for the page.
White’s father grew up in a family of 19 and hunted and trapped for food.
“He just instilled his love of the outdoors in me. He started taking me outdoors when I was just three years old. I’m almost 54 now,” White said in a phone interview.
As his father grew older, health problems made it more difficult to go out into the desert. White took him to the countryside when he was home on leave from the army.
About 15 years ago they were near Hare Hill in the early evening. White was scanning the landscape through a pair of binoculars for caribou or moose when he saw something suddenly leap from the top of a rock on the mountain.
“What in God’s name was that?” he said. “Then within seconds he turned around and there it was as clear as day, a tan colored cougar.”
But as soon as he spotted him, he jumped off the rock and they never saw him again.
“It all happened so fast. … (I thought), I can’t believe I just saw this,” he said. “But before I got my observations, I had a few uncles who also had sightings. And I followed the sightings.
Over the years, White has received more than 100 reports of cougar sightings.
“The problem is that most of the sightings…were people driving either side-by-side country, on Ski-Doos or on the highway,” he said. “All of these sightings happen within seconds. The cat is here, the cat is gone. No time for a photo.
While it wouldn’t take photographic evidence to convince White or Anstey, with dash cams and trail cams becoming more popular, along with better zoom capabilities on cellphone cameras, White says it’s only a matter of time before someone captures quality evidence.