Increased mountain lion sightings highlight that Utah is cougar country

Despite being considered a shy animal, cougars are increasingly in the news, as sightings in Utah seem to be on the rise. (Photo: USU Extension)

(KUTV) — Despite being considered a shy animal, cougars are increasingly in the news, as sightings in Utah seem to be on the rise.

On Saturday a bow hunter was stalked and attacked by a cougar, though he declined medical attention to continue his hunt. Earlier this year, Provo, Utah, officials suspected another mountain lion was killing small animals and pets in the area.

The animals live all across Utah, from the Uinta Mountains to the dry southern deserts according to Terry Messmer, Utah State University Extension wildlife specials. He said Utah is cougar country.

Known by a variety of names besides cougar and mountain lion — puma, catamount, panther — the predators are linked to deer.

"The main prey of cougars is deer, so they may be found wherever deer are. Because urban areas in Utah are also inhabited by mule deer year around, more cougar sightings have been reported in these areas in recent years," Messmer said.

There were signings in July in Huntsville and in Park City in September, as well as other places. A year ago an animal was spotted on Oakridge Elementary school grounds and capture another in a yard in Tooele County.

But the increase of mountain lion encounters doesn't mean the population is booming.

"The increased cougar sightings may be the result of more people recreating outdoors, coupled with seasonal movements and dispersal of the juvenile animals. It is less likely that there are as many cougars in Utah as some might think.”

The wildlife board approved an increase in hunting permits this year, although that decision wasn't appreciated by all, including some hunters.

Messmer said cougars are solitary animals that usually hunt alone at dawn and dusk. They can weigh up to 200 pounds. Beside their staple of mule deer, according to WildAwareUtah, they also consume elk, antelope, small mammals and birds. After making a kill, a cougar will often take the carcass to the base of a tree and cover it with soil, leaves or snow, saving it to feed on later.

“Be especially watchful during these times, because this is when humans are most likely to encounter them,” Messmer said.

WildAwareUtah.org has tips on how to reduce the risk of a cougar encounter with other tips below them on what to do if you do have an encounter.

  • Remove wildlife attractants from your property, including pet food, water sources, bird feeders and fallen fruit. If your property and landscaping are attractive to deer and other wildlife, cougars may follow the wildlife to your property while searching for prey.
  • Do not leave children outside unattended, especially at dawn and dusk.
  • As a deterrent, install outside and motion-sensitive lighting around your property.
  • Bring pets and livestock inside at night or secure them in a barn or kennel with a roof.
  • Provide secure shelter for hobby farm animals such as poultry, rabbits and goats. Ask your neighbors to also follow these tips.
  • Do not hike or jog alone. Travel in groups and keep everyone together, especially children and dogs.
  • Make noise while hiking to alert cougars of your presence.
  • Leave the area if you find a dead animal, especially deer or elk, as it could be a cougar kill, and the cougar may return and defend its food.
  • If you are camping, keep your site clean. Store food and garbage in an odor-free, locked container or hang it between two trees where cougars (and bears) cannot get to it.

  • If you do encounter a cougar, remember you are advised to do the following:

Stop immediately. Never run from a cougar, as it may elicit cougar-prey chase behavior. Cougars tend to either pounce on their prey or chase it down. Don’t create the impression that you are prey.

Do not approach the cougar. Leave enough space so it can retreat. If the animal feels threatened and cannot escape, your risk of being attacked increases.

  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Pick up children and pets or keep them close to you.
  • Stand up tall, and do not crouch or squat.
  • Make yourself look bigger by raising and waving your arms or jacket above your head.
  • Talk firmly in a loud voice, back away slowly and leave the area.
  • Fight back if you are attacked! Protect your head and neck.
  • If you are aggressive enough, the cougar will likely flee.

“If you have an encounter with a cougar or other aggressive wildlife, it’s very important to alert the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources office near you,” Messmer said. “If the encounter or sighting occurs after hours or on the weekend, contact your local police department or county sheriff’s office, and they can contact a conservation officer to handle the situation.”

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