Land & Environment

USU Expert Shares Mountain Lion Advice After Cougar Spotted Near Campus

By Lael Gilbert |

This file photo of a mountain lion, captured on a trail cam in the Santa Monica Mountains, was uploaded to the internet by the National Park Service in 2015.

Residents of Aggie Village had a sunrise surprise this week when a mountain lion was spotted near the housing area north of the main Logan campus early Tuesday morning, an event that triggered a campus-wide safety alert.

The cat moved to the Logan Cemetery adjacent to campus and was finally tranquilized and captured without incident at Lundstrom Park in North Logan by the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Sightings of mountain lions in cities are not frequent, but they do happen, said David Stoner from the Quinney College of Natural Resources. As deer and elk migrate from the mountains to browse on leftovers from lawns and gardens in late winter, predators sometimes follow, he said.

But humans likely share their space with mountain lions more often than they know. These animals tend to be shy and are masters of disguise, he said. Their most active hunting times are at dawn and dusk, and they generally don’t linger very long when humans are around. They work hard not to draw attention to themselves, he said, and that’s why they are still here.

“Cougars don’t show a strong tendency to use human-impacted landscapes,” Stoner said.

In contrast to other animals like raccoons and bears that take advantage of access to food sources left by humans, mountain lions seem especially wary.

Populations of mountain lions have held steady in Western states, with about three adult animals per 100 miles, and a very rough estimate of 2,000 to 2,500 animals in Utah. But if you feel like you are hearing more about these elusive mammals exploring human spaces lately, you aren’t wrong.

The difference these days, Stoner said, is an increase in technologies like doorbell cameras that allow people to use constant nighttime surveillance.

The good news is that no Utahn has ever been killed by a mountain lion. A person is far more likely to be struck by lightning or drown in their own bathtub than to be attacked by a cougar.

The age and sex of a mountain lion is a major factor in their behavior, said Hannah Klugman, a graduate student from the Department of Wildland Resources. Young mountain lions that are orphaned by hunting or other factors don’t have adults teaching them to hunt and are more likely to take chances exploring urban communities, she said.

Older and weaker animals also get desperate for food, which may have been the case in a recent reported encounter with a snowboarder near the Beaver Mountain ski area. These weaker animals move into areas with easier resources such as garbage and yard animals.

Based on the numbers, the best way to avoid a mountain lion attack is not to live in British Columbia. Half of all mountain lion attacks happen there, with a full quarter of the total happening on Vancouver Island.

Statistics may be small comfort when a wild animal is prowling outside your front door, though. That fear is buried deep in our brains, Stoner said. That wariness is not irrational, he said, because of our situation as potential prey for hundreds of thousands of years.

As a scientist, Stoner has tracked, captured and radio collared many of these animals, working for decades in Utah, California and Nevada. As a hiker, his tally is somewhere between zero and one encounter … he says he thinks he spotted one but isn’t certain.

There are things that people who live near mountain lion habitat can do to make themselves less vulnerable to the possibility of a visit. Don’t do things that draw prey into your yard. Garden waste and bird feeders attract wildlife, but you may get more than you bargained for, Stoner said. Wandering pets and accessible livestock like goats and chickens can also attract wild predators.

Joggers are also disproportionately represented as victims of mountain lion attacks, because they sometimes mimic the behavior of natural prey. Running in company with a bigger dog has been thought to be an effective deterrent to mountain lions. And of course, small children should always be supervised when visiting mountain lion habitat.


Lael Gilbert
Public Relations Specialist
Quinney College of Natural Resources


David Stoner
Wildland Resources Department


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