Dr. Helen Schwantje

Dr. Helen Schwantje

A rare look at a young cougar

Montessori students in Metchosin view dissection for education on wildlife

A large chunk of hairy meat is pulled from a cougar’s stomach, as students from West-Mont Montessori school guess what the one-year old feline’s last meal was.

Children forgot about the rank smell as they peered in closer, guessing “deer,” “rabbit,” and “sheep.” One boy guessed correctly with his shout of “goat!”

Dr. Helen Schwantje, provincial wildlife veterinarian and Peter Pauwels, a conservation officer with the Ministry of Environment, brought a euthanized cougar to the Metchosin private school to perform a dissection for students last Friday.

The male cougar was euthanized in September in Central Saanich after it attacked and killed several goats on a farm.

Before the dissection could begin Pauwels explained the cougar’s death.

“In this case we had no choice, it’s always a sad thing to put any wildlife down. At least now we can learn from it,” he said.

Many of the students sat enthralled when Schwantje began her presentation, but held their noses due to the smell of the thawing, decomposing carnivore. Some students quietly left the room when cat was first cut open.

“On CSI they talk about bruising and puncture wounds, then I think boy they have a nice species to work with because they don’t have to work with all the hair,” Schwantje said.

After looking at layers of fat and muscle, the wildlife vet determined the cougar was a very healthy, young cat.

She took samples of blood, tongue, ear and spleen to be sent to other scientists studying cougars. “Cougars are very secretive animals … you can’t just go up to one and ask it for a blood sample,” Schwantje explained.

“Most often veterinarians are working with dogs, cats and horses,” Pauwels said. “Dr. Helen is working on all sorts of high profile animals like cougars, grizzlies, moose and mountain sheep.”

“And frogs and bats,” Schwantje chimed in.