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As you're exploring the great outdoors in Utah, you'll likely come across a variety of wildlife, especially with the heavy snowpack pushing many animals to lower elevations. Utah.com notes that the state is home to more than 600 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Even though it's thrilling to spot a wild animal, it's important to keep your distance.
Utahns regularly cross paths with bison, mountain lions, bears and other animals and only rarely are the encounters dangerous. The following accounts demonstrate that all types of Utah wildlife demand respect and appreciation.
Doorbell camera captures a glimpse of a wolverine in Layton
Given that the National Wildlife Federation reports only 25 to 300 of them live in the contiguous states, your chances of spotting a wolverine are extremely rare. But in 2021, one took a wild trip through a Davis County neighborhood.
Layton resident Sandy Sabin told KSL News that at first the animal looked like a dog — but its behavior indicated otherwise.
"It was like it was trapped between us and it kept running back and forth, not sure where to go," Sabin said. Her phone video, along with a doorbell camera video, shows the wolverine running through the neighborhood.
Officials believed this may have been the same wolverine that was spotted on Antelope Island earlier that year. Before this encounter, there were only six reported sightings of wolverines in the state's history.
Woman crosses paths with a mountain lion in Tooele County
Earlier this year, a Tooele woman went hunting with friends only to realize that she was the one being hunted. Laurien Elsholz was hunting in the woods when she suddenly thought she smelled a dead animal.
"To my right, I heard crashing and felt something, like, swipe my leg," Elsholz told KSL News. "I looked down and it took me a second to realize I was face to face with a mountain lion."
Elsholz yelled up the hill to her friends and backed away from the cat, which she said followed them for about a mile before running off.
"Just be aware — you're not alone in the mountains. It's their territory, so go prepared," she said.
Cougar stalks a man in Provo Canyon
Here's another close call with a cougar that you may have seen since it went viral on social media in 2020. Kyle Burgess finished a trail run in Slate Canyon when he stumbled across some cougar cubs — followed by their mother. The mama cat stalked Burgess for six minutes, which he mostly caught on his phone. You can see the incredible full video on KSL.com.
Utahn spots 'extremely rare' white squirrel
Not every wild animal encounter is a scary one. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you might just stumble across something that no one else has laid eyes on before. In 2015, Nick Carnahan was eating lunch at Red Pine Lake when he suddenly spotted a bright white squirrel and posted the video on YouTube. Wildlife biologist George Oliver of the Division of Wildlife Resources told KSL that sightings like these are extremely rare.
Bear attacks in Utah
The good news is that bear attacks in Utah are rare. The bad news is that they can be extremely dangerous when they happen. Though the state has no grizzly bears, there are thousands of black bears roaming the hills — and enough stories to prove they're dangerous.
In a July 2021 Deseret News article, Katie McKellar detailed a handful of bear encounters in the state — one of which ended tragically.
In June 2007, 11-year-old Samuel Ives died after a black bear ripped him from a tent he was sleeping in with his family in American Fork Canyon. The Ives family eventually sued the U.S. Forest Service because the bear had terrorized the campsite earlier that day and the family wasn't warned about its presence.
Other accounts of bears biting or scratching Boy Scouts in the summer of 2019 also appeared on the list, as well as a 2009 account of a 78-year-old man who was attacked while sleeping on a cot near Rock Creek Ranch. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources reported that one of the man's daughters jumped on the bear and punched it while another family member helped fight it off. The man's grandson shot the bear in the back, which made it run off. It was later found dead.
What to do if you come across a wild animal
While these encounters may make for some great stories, it's important to remember that crossing paths with a wild animal is not something you should take lightly. In many cases, it could be life-threatening. Stay safe out there by following these tips from the University of Utah Health Communications:
- Don't startle animals.
- Back away and make yourself look bigger.
- Talk to the animal so it knows you're human.
- Give the animal space to leave.
- Carry bear spray and use it on any animal that may be a threat.
- Stay as far away from animals as possible — even herbivores.
If you're wondering how much distance you should keep between yourself and wildlife, the National Park Service advises maintaining two bus lengths away. And if you come across a bison, black bear, moose or mountain lion, make that three bus lengths. Be smart and stay safe!
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