What do you do if you encounter a mountain lion?

May 22, 2024, 9:58 AM | Updated: 10:13 am

A mountain lion shows its teeth, a sign of aggression....

FILE - A mountain lion shows signs of aggression in an undated file photo. (AP Photo/California Dept of Fish and Game)

(AP Photo/California Dept of Fish and Game)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has advice for what to do if you come into contact with a mountain lion this summer. 

Mountain lions, also sometimes called cougars or pumas, can be found throughout Utah. Since they prey on deer, they are most common in areas where deer live. However, they also eat elk, pronghorn, and small mammals. And from time to time, they also eat birds according to the the DWR. 

They are usually in the foothills and canyons. However, mountain lions sometimes wander into the valleys, following their prey during the colder months. 

Data collected has shown an increase in Utah mountain lion numbers, potentially increasing the chances of seeing one. 

“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, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources game mammals coordinator.

If you come into contact with one

If you encounter a mountain lion, maintain eye contact with the animal. Do not run away or turn your back. Running away could trigger the cougar’s instinct to chase, so back away slowly. 

“Typically, a cougar that is trying to prey on something will sneak up and ambush them,” DeBloois said. 

If a mountain lion begins showing signs of aggression, make yourself appear bigger. The DWR advised raising your arms and waving them. Or, raise your jacket above your head. Never squat or make yourself smaller. 

Western Wildlife Outreach listed signs of aggression as crouching with ears pulled back, pedaling feet in preparation to pounce, showing teeth, or hissing. 

Pick up small children or pets. If your dog is too large to be picked up, Western Wildlife Outreach recommends keeping it under control and behind you. 

Additionally, you should speak firmly. “If you are aggressive enough, the cougar will probably flee,” the DWR said in a press release. 

If you are attacked, the DWR said to fight back. Protect your head and neck. 

Tips to avoid mountain lion encounters 

The DWR said that you should never hike or recreate alone. Recreate with a group and make sure that everyone stays together.

In the event of a mountain lion encounter or an emergency, hiking alone increases the chances that nobody will be around to help. 

Additionally, Western Wildlife Outreach said to keep camping sites clean. Store food and trash in plastic bags, doubling them up. 

Always stay aware of your surroundings. Avoid wearing headphones or playing music too loudly, as they can block out your surroundings.

However, the DWR said that you should make some noise while hiking.  Making noise can alert wildlife, such as mountain lions, that you are in the area. This will lessen the chances of encounters. 

Also, leave the area if you see a dead animal, particularly deer or elk. According to the DWR, mountain lions often leave or hide animals they have killed, saving them for later. There is a chance a cougar could return to the site. 

Related: Remaining safe while recreating near rattlesnakes


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What do you do if you encounter a mountain lion?