Cougar Sightings Becoming Common

Cougar Sightings Becoming Common

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ROCKVILLE, Utah (AP) -- Linda Petty has lost three pet goats to cougar attacks in the last nine months, LoAnn Bennett lost two cats to the predators and cougar sightings in Rockville have become common this summer.

Wildlife officials say the drought may play a role in the visits by the big cats.

In November, an adult male cougar took Petty's 11-year-old goat Penny. One month ago, she lost two goats to a cougar. One was killed and left in the yard while the other was carried off.

"I don't want the cougars wiped out but I don't want them in my back yard," she said.

Petty's Rockville home is right on the highway but the property extends out into a field, not far from the Virgin River.

Until the most recent attack, Petty let the goats roam around the fenced yard but now the goats, along with the chickens, are being penned in at night.

Bennett's cats were attacked June 23, about a week after Petty's goats were killed.

"I heard the cats arguing and I figured it was another town cat but that wasn't the case," Bennett said. "I went out on the porch and on another porch, about 10 feet away, was the cougar with my cat in its mouth."

Bennett now keeps her remaining cat and dog indoors at night.

Dennis Kay, conservation officer for the Utah Division of Wildlife Services, said the mountain lion involved in the goat killing last year was tracked and killed, as was the older female that attacked the baby goats the middle of last month.

Kay said a cougar spotted around town is likely a yearling offspring of the cougar killed last month.

The cougar sightings in town and the killing of domestic animals does not represent normal behavior, but it does happen, Kay said.

"They are usually more shy of people and don't like to intermingle," he said. "One reason may be that the mother was too old to teach her young to hunt normal prey which is deer, and the mountain lion seen in town is young enough that it hasn't learned to hunt."

The drought may indirectly be the cause for the cougar visits.

The drought has taken its toll on the fawn survival rate, and with the deer population declining, there is not much of a prey base for the cougar.

"In my mind, there is a direct correlation with the deer numbers and the cougar sightings in town," Kay said.

Jeff Bradybaugh, chief of resource management at Zion National Park, said that with the drought, wildlife tend to concentrate in areas of rivers and streams.

"Because this is where other wildlife is found, the predators follow, which is why we are seeing them more frequently along the Virgin River," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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