If you live in an area that has mule deer in or near it, cougars may be in the area too.
Deer migrate to lower elevations in the winter, and cougars often follow them. John Shivik, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, said deer are the main animal cougars prey on, especially in the winter.
“The number of cougars that come in contact with people and pets jumps a bit in the winter,” Shivik said. “As deer migrate to lower elevations in search of food, some cougars follow the deer. Other cougars are wandering in the winter, looking for new territories.”
He said seeing one of these elusive cats is extremely rare, and you shouldn’t fear them. But because cougars are predators, they command a certain amount of respect.
If you live in cougar country, such as housing areas that are next to forested mountains, Shivik provides several tips for minimizing the chance of coming in contact with a cougar:
• Do not feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife attracts deer and other animals to your yard that cougars prey on.
• Do not feed pets outside. The food you leave out for your pet could attract a cougar and other species to your yard, including raccoons and coyotes. And keep your pets indoors at night. Pets that are left out are easy prey for cougars.
• Install outdoor lighting or motion-sensitive lighting. The light will often deter a cougar from coming near your home and might even cause the animal to leave the area. If a cougar does approach your house, the lighting will make it easier to see the animal.
• Watch your young children closely, and bring them in before dark.
• Deer-proof your yard by landscaping it with plants that deer don’t like to eat. If your landscaping is attractive to deer, cougars will follow the deer and stay close to your property. More information — including a list of plants deer don’t like to eat — is available online at wildlife.utah.gov/habitat/deer-browse.php.
The following are three things you should do if you encounter a cougar:
• Do not run. Running from a cougar can provoke a prey response in the animal, and the cougar may pursue you.
• Make yourself look intimidating. Make direct eye contact with the cougar. Make yourself look big by opening your jacket, and raising your arms and waving them. Speak at the cougar in a loud, firm voice. Even though the cougar will probably leave first, back away slowly to a safe place until it leaves.
• If you have children, pick them up. As you’re picking your children up, maintain eye contact with the cougar. Try not to bend over too far or turn your back to the cougar.
If you’re hiking or camping, there are two things you can do to avoid encountering a cougar in the first place: Hike with other people and make noise, as cougars will usually leave a group of people alone; and if you’re hiking with pets, keep them on a leash and close to your group.