Staying safe in cougar country
|Cougars are generally reclusive, but can attack people if perturbed or caught off guard.|
Dave Swenson has patrolled Utah's back country for more than 28 years. During that time, the veteran wildlife officer has seen a cougar only five times.
And each time, the cougar was running away from him.
"It's very, very rare to see or come in contact with a cougar," the Division of Wildlife Resources officer says. "Cougars usually go out of their way to avoid people."
Swenson says cougars are also secretive animals. And they usually come out only at night.
While it's very rare to see a cougar, if you do see one, it will probably be in the winter.
"Deer are the main animal that cougars prey on this time of the year," Swenson says. "In the winter, the snow covers the vegetation in the higher country. That forces the deer to travel to lower elevations to find food. And the cougars come right down with them."
For those that live in cougar country, Swenson provides the following tips to lessen the chance that they come in contact with a cougar:
Do not feed wildlife. Feeding wildlife attracts deer and other animals to residential yards. That could also bring cougars in.
Do not feed pets outside. The food could attract cougars to a yard. Keep pets indoors at night, because they can be easy prey for cougars.
Outdoor lighting and motion-sensitive lighting are a deterrent for the secretive cougar. Lights also make cougars that are approaching a home or cabin visible.
Keep a close eye on children when they're playing outside. Also be sure to have them come in before dusk. That's when cougars begin to hunt.
Make residential areas deer-proof. If the landscaping is attractive to deer, cougars will follow the deer and stay close to the property.
Here are three things you can do if one encounters a cougar:
Do not run from a cougar. Running can provoke a prey response in the cougar, and the cougar may pursue the runner.
Make yourself look intimidating. Make yourself look big by opening your jacket, and raising your arms and waving them. Speak loudly and firmly.
If there are children present, pick them up. Try to pick them up before they panic and run. When picking children up, keep an eye on the cougar but avoid making direct eye contact with the animal. Try not to bend over too far and do not turn your back to the cougar.
It is generally fairly easy to keep encounters to a minimum if you hike with other people and make noise. Cougars will not usually bother groups of people. And as far as pets that may be with you keep them on a leash and close to your group. Roaming pets are open to cougar attacks, or they could irritate a cougar that's trying to avoid a group of people. A dog on a leash is also a good warning system that will let you know if a cougar is nearby.
More tips about how to stay safe in cougar country are available in the DWR's "Living in Cougar Country" brochure. The free brochure is available at www.wildlife.utah.gov/cougar.
"As Utah's population grows, we're moving more and more into areas where wildlife live," Swenson says. "It's important that we learn about the wildlife that live in our area and how we can minimize causing them problems. If we do that, both us and the wildlife will benefit."