Seeing cats in Manitoba doesn’t take a whole lot of effort. I have one that lives in my house (and only in my house), and too many that wander around the neighbourhood doing a number on birds and getting hit by cars. And there are always cartoon cats on TV or the web like Sylvester (of Bugs Bunny fame) as he tries to capture and eat Tweety – that yellow bird’s frequent (and distorted)exclamation being the source of this blog’s title. But seeing the province’s native wild cats is quite a bit more challenging than seeing these domestic versions.
We have three wild cat species quietly slinking through our woods and fields. Two are quite rare in Manitoba and all are shy, so a special effort and/or a little luck are needed to see one. The most common is the lynx (Lynx canadensis), a Canadian shield and boreal cat, usually around 10kg with long ear tufts, a stub tail with a black tip, and a luxurious fur that has made it a staple of the trapline for centuries. Despite its relative abundance, it is infrequently seen, even by those that spend a good deal of time outdoors. The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is of similar form, but with shorter ear tufts and a striped stub tail. It is about the same size or a little larger than the lynx, but found only in the southern tenth of the province and is considered uncommon.
The most romanticized member of the cat family in Manitoba is the cougar (Puma concolor). Big males of this magnificent cat can be over 100kg, but most are smaller, and females reach about 60kg. Its status in the province was a bit of a mystery, with only vague historical records until more reliable reports began in the 1940s. But it was not until 1973 that an actual specimen was available, a small male (43kg) shot while near livestock in Stead, about 90km northwest of Winnipeg. Two others, one shot and another accidentally snared, were taken in 2004 around Riding Mountain National Park (near Grandview and Erickson) . All three of these specimens are in the Museum collection. There have been several well-documented and publicized sightings since then in Plum Coulee, Duck Mountain, Lac du Bonnet and Morden (among others).