What to do if you spot a cougar this summer

Cougar sightings might be more common as Utahns head to the mountains this summer. Here's what to do if you spot one.

Cougar sightings might be more common as Utahns head to the mountains this summer. Here's what to do if you spot one. (Utah Division of Wildlife Services)

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SALT LAKE CITY — For many Utahns, summer means more time in the mountains — and as a result, more potential encounters with mountain lions.

Mountain lions — also known as cougars, pumas or panthers — live all over Utah. They're solitary animals that usually hunt deer, though they've been known to attack humans in some cases.

Keep in mind, cougar attacks are rare: only four to six attacks happen in the U.S. each year. Cougar sightings are much more common, however. Housing developments in the Wasatch foothills and doorbell camera footage increase the chances of spotting one of these big cats, the Utah Department of Natural Resources said.

"People are the most likely to encounter cougars in areas frequented by mule deer and during the early morning and at dusk, when cougars are most likely to be hunting," said Darren DeBloois, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources game mammals coordinator.

If you do see a cougar this summer, follow these tips to make sure the encounter doesn't get confrontational.

Wild Aware Utah's prevention tips

On property:

  • If you live near deer habitats, don't leave children outside unattended, especially at dawn or dusk.
  • Consider installing outdoor motion-sensitive lighting around your property.
  • Trim vegetation and remove wood piles to curb wildlife hiding spots.
  • Bring pets and livestock inside to a secure shelter at night.

While recreating:

  • Don't hike or jog alone.
  • Travel in groups and keep everyone together, especially children and pets.
  • Make noise while hiking to alert cougars of your presence.
  • Leave the area if you find a dead animal, especially deer or elk, because it could be a cougar kill. Cougars will often return and defend their food.
  • Keep things clean while camping. Food and garbage should be stored in odor-free, locked containers.

Cougar encounter tips

  • If you see a cougar, stop where you are. Don't run or approach the cougar.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Pick up children and pets or keep them very close.
  • Stand up tall (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.
  • If you are attacked, fight back.

Not every cougar sighting is worth reporting to authorities. Cougars spotted from a distance or on security camera footage are probably just passing through, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

However, some more aggressive behaviors warrant a call. If a cougar has killed something in a neighborhood or yard, exhibited aggressive behavior or appeared several times on security cameras, reach out to DWR at 801-538-4700. If you're placing your call after hours or on the weekend, reach out to local police.

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Emma Everett Johnson covers Utah as a general news reporter. She is a graduate of Brigham Young University.


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