LOGAN – The Utah Department of Wildlife Resources is warning people who like to recreate outdoors not to go hiking alone in Utah’s back country trails.

Cougars, mountain lions, pumas have several different names, but whatever they are called these elusive predators can be found throughout Utah and are dangerous. Some estimates say there 1,600 to 2,700 roaming the state.

Cougar attacks are rare, there is always the chance a cougar maybe found on doorbell camera footage or while someone is out hiking this summer.

If a cougar is encountered a cougar while hiking there are a few simple steps anyone can do to keep themselves safe.

Cougars can be found in the foothill and canyon areas, but sometimes down in the valleys during the winter months as they follow deer to lower elevations. Trends of population data indicate that cougar numbers in Utah have been growing steadily for the last few years. Thy are prolific hunters and can run up to 50 miles per hour. 

The main prey of the wildcats is deer, so they follow wherever they are found. They are also known to eat elk, pronghorn, small mammals and sometimes birds. After making a kill, a cougar will sometimes hide or cache the carcass by covering it with soil, leaves or snow, saving it to feed on later. 

“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,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Game Mammals Coordinator Darren DeBloois said. 

Tips to prevent conflicts with cougars

  • Do not hike or jog alone.
  • Maintain awareness in cougar country while hiking or jogging and avoid using headphones that block out your surroundings.
  • Travel in groups and keep everyone together, including 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, since it could be a cougar kill. 
  • If you live in an area near deer habitat, do not leave children outside unattended, especially at dawn and dusk.
  • As a deterrent, install outside and motion-sensitive lighting around your property.
  • Trim vegetation and remove wood piles to reduce hiding places for wildlife.
  • Bring pets and livestock inside at night or secure them in a barn or kennel with a top.

In the rare event that you do happen to encounter a cougar, here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • Never run from a cougar, since that could trigger the cougar’s instincts to chase.
  • 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 the area.
  • Fight back if you are attacked! Protect your head and neck.
  • If you are aggressive enough, the cougar will probably flee.

“Typically, a cougar that is trying to prey on something will sneak up and ambush them,” DeBloois said. “When a cougar lunges or bluffs a charge at someone, they are typically just trying to drive them out of the area because they have kittens or a kill nearby that they are trying to protect.” 

When to report a cougar sighting

There has been an increase in cougar sightings over the last few years, due to an increase in doorbell and security cameras and an increase in the number of people moving into cougar and deer habitat areas.

 A cougar siting should be reported if:

  • It has killed something in a neighborhood or yard.
  • It exhibits aggressive behavior.
  • It appears several times on your security cameras.

Footage of a cougar on security cameras one time or see one from a distance in foothill areas, need not be reported.

For more safety tips, visit the Wild Aware Utah website.

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