CALGARY Alberta (Reuters) - Wildlife officers shot and killed a cougar on the grounds of a hospital in the city of Calgary, Alberta, on Thursday, a spokesman for Fish and Wildlife enforcement said.
Police initially received reports of two cougars near the South Health Campus hospital in south-east Calgary at around 7:30 a.m. local time. However, Calgary Police said they were able to verify the presence of only one animal.
The cougar was first spotted in the stairwell of a hotel under construction opposite the hospital before it crossed the street and settled down in a large planter area filled with bushes, plants and long grass next to the hospital.
It was not acting aggressively, but access to that part of the hospital was restricted for public safety and patients and members of staff were directed to use different entrances. A road in front of that part of the hospital was closed.
Fish and Wildlife enforcement spokesman Brendan Cox said officers had initially hoped to tranquilize the cougar and remove it.
However, he said concerns that might agitate the cougar and increase the risk of it attacking someone prompted officers to make the "unfortunate and difficult" decision to kill the animal.
"It's a public safety concern when you have a large predator like that in a populated area," Cox said.
"Even if you do get it with a tranquilizer dart, that will agitate the animal and before the drug takes effect, there's a high chance it will be able to escape - they are very quick and agile - and make its way toward a more populated area."
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, are the largest wild cats in North America. They can weigh as much as 70 kilograms (140 lbs) and though they have been known to attack humans, attacks are relatively rare.
Inspector Keith Cain of Calgary Police said it was very unusual for a cougar to come into Calgary, a city of 1.1 million people nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
"It's a grassy area to the south of (the hospital) and the Bow River is not too far away. It's likely that's its natural habitat but we are not sure what caused it to come into the community," Cain said.
Earlier this month, a mountain lion attacked a 6-year-old boy hiking on a trail with family and friends in a densely wooded preserve just west of Cupertino, California. The cougar pounced on the boy and tried to drag him away but retreated when the boy's father and another man rushed at the animal.
Wildlife experts tracked the cougar for three days before it was found 130 yards away from the scene of the attack, 70 feet up a tree, and shot dead.
Editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler