TV host's cougar hunt was legal 'as far as we know:' Alberta Environment
EDMONTON - An investigation into the hunt of a large cougar by a television show host in Alberta has determined it was legal, says the province.
Steve Ecklund, host of the outdoor show "The Edge," bragged about hunting the big cat in early December. He triggered outrage online when he posted several photos of him holding the dead cougar and another of him making a stir-fry from the meat.
Environment officials said Thursday that they investigated after receiving complaints from the public about Ecklund's hunt of the male cat in an area between Rocky Mountain House and Drayton Valley in east-central Alberta.
"Did the hunter have a proper licence? Was the quota still open in that specific management area? Was everything done legally?" said carnivore specialist Paul Frame. "As far as we know, that was a legal hunt."
Ecklund and his television network defended his right to hunt the cougar.
"We fully support the ethical and legal kill that Steve Ecklund has presented us," Ryan Kohler, president of Wild TV, said in a video statement posted on Twitter. "Unfortunately he is getting some huge backlash, but that won't change the fact that we love our hunting heritage here in Canada."
Ecklund had a written statement at the end of the video.
"I'd like to say thank you to all the outdoorsmen and women alike for their continued support," he said.
His original post led to criticism from dozens of people, including Laureen Harper, wife of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
"Must be compensating for something, small penis probably," Harper said in a post on Twitter.
Alberta Environment said the province has a cougar hunting season for management purposes.
"There's a long-standing tradition of hunting cougars in Alberta," said Frame. "It's been regulated since '69, with the quota in place since 1990.
"We adjust quotas based on the environmental conditions of the time, so we review them annually or biannually."
There's currently an annual quota of up to 155 cougars that can be killed across the province by residents each winter season. Another 30 cats can be hunted by non-residents.
Frame said there were 1,025 licences given out in the 2016-17 hunting season and 125 cougars were killed.
So far this season, which is open until the end of February, more than 775 licences have been sold. Once a quota in an area is reached, the hunting season closes there.
The province says there are between 2,000 and 3,500 cougars in Alberta.
"Cougar hunting is popular, especially with hounds," Mark Boyce, a professor of population ecology with the University of Alberta, said in an email interview from his remote cabin.
Most cougars are in the Rocky Mountains and the foothills, but they exist throughout the province.
"There is considerable concern about rising numbers of cougars because they are dangerous ... and occasionally they kill livestock," said Boyce. "Hunter harvests are low enough that they do not threaten our cougar populations and sustainable harvests are possible."
Some hunters eat the meat, while others use the hide or have the cougar's entire body mounted.
He suggested the criticism of Ecklund is unwarranted.
"This is an anti-hunting rant," said Boyce. "There is nothing illegal about cougar hunting, but I understand that some people do not accept hunting. That is a personal choice."