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Facts about Utah's big, fierce cats

Posted at 5:51 PM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-11 00:21:51-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The National Wildlife Federation calls mountain lions an "umbrella species." Their range is so broad that if their habitat can be preserved, that takes care of a lot of other plants and animals.

Mountain lions have the widest range of any mammal in the Americas — from Alaska to the Straits of Magellan.

They tend to be larger toward the poles and smaller closer to the equator.

Professor David Stoner and colleagues from Utah State University have monitored mountain lions using GPS trackers. In one case, they report: "Over the course of one year, female number 31 moved 357 linear kilometers. That's 222 miles. but an actual distance of 1,341 kilometers or 833 miles from the Oquirrh Mountains in Utah to the White River Plateau in Colorado."

Utah has a lot of habitat that suits the big cats — about 40 percent of the state, according to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

WATCH: Handling the rare but real dangers of wildlife encounters in Utah

But cougars need a lot more space than other animals — 13 times more territory than a black bear, according to the National Wildlife Federation. The Mountain Lion Foundation says a solitary cat needs about a 100-square-mile range if it's not mating or parenting.

Estimates of Utah's population of mountain lions range from 1,600 (from conservationists) to 2,600 (from the Division of Wildlife Resources).

All that sounds scary when talking about 80 to 220 pounds of predator. But in 100 years, we know of fewer than two dozen fatal attacks on humans in North America.

Persistent drought and warming have the potential to create more encounters like the one Thursday in Pleasant Grove. When there are fewer resources in their territory, they need to roam further to get what they need, according to the National Wildlife Federation.