Cougar will follow the deer migration to lower elevations. [Photo courtesy Division of Wildlife Services]

As the snow falls on the LaSal Mountains, more mule deer are moving into the valleys to forage. Cougars may follow.

Sightings of cougars may be few in both Castle Valley and Moab, but they are here.

John Shivik, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources, says 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.”

Shivik said seeing one of these elusive cats is extremely rare, and you shouldn’t fear them. But because cougars are predators, you should respect them.

You can do several things to lessen the chance that you and a cougar have a conflict. Shivik also provides advice about what to do if you encounter a cougar.

If you live in cougar country, such as housing areas that are next to forested mountains, Shivik says doing the following will lessen the chance you come 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 it gets 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.

The following are three things you should do if you encounter a cougar.

“Remember them and teach them to your children,” Shivik said.

1) Do not run. Running from a cougar can provoke a prey response in the animal, and the cougar may pursue you.

2) 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.

3) 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 a few things you can do to avoid encountering a cougar in the first place.

Hike with other people and make noise. Cougars will usually leave a group of people alone.

If you’re hiking with pets, keep them on a leash and close to your group. Roaming pets are open to cougar attacks. They could also irritate a cougar that’s trying to avoid your group. A dog on a leash is also a good warning system that will let you know if a cougar is nearby.

As Utah’s population grows, more and more people are moving into the same places where wildlife live.

“If we’re going to live in and right next to places where animals live, we have to be smart,” Shivik said Having healthy wildlife populations in Utah is important. But to have those populations, we have to learn how to live with wildlife safely and responsibly.”