A mountain lion sighting in Moab’s Portal Vista neighborhood on Sept. 2 caused multiple concerned citizens to notify the city’s animal control officers.
The incident took place at the southern edge of the Matheson Wetlands Preserve in western Moab, the marshy wetland that adorns the lower, north-side portion of Kane Creek Boulevard. At approximately 4 p.m. Sunday, a woman was relaxing in her hammock when she saw the large cat curiously slink by only 10 feet away. Her boyfriend successfully scared off the cat as it quietly disappeared around a corner.
The details of the incident were confirmed by the Southeast Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Department, and relayed by Conservation Officer Adam Wallerstein, who estimated the cat to be a juvenile male between 2-3 years old. While mountain lions are “really elusive, sightings like these are not terribly uncommon,” said Morgan Jacobson, DWR’s conservation outreach manager. “It is typical for young males to go exploring looking for a territory to call their own.” He said Wallerstein affirmed that approximately eight mountain lion sightings similar to this get reported every year, though not all of them are confirmed.
When talk of involving animal officials was first mentioned by residents following the sighting, it drew speculation and criticism as to the potential fate of the animal. Many individuals expressed concern on social media as to the cougar’s well being. Some residents urged people to simply relax and accept the presence of large predators in their neighborhood while viewing humans as the real intruder; many simply wanted it removed humanely and one individual generated some uproar when expressing his desire to shoot it.
Jacobsen reassured the concerned individuals and said that large predators like cougars and bears are only euthanized in the event that they attack a person. He affirmed that relocation of the animal would be the preferred scenario, and even then, wouldn’t occur unless the animal repeatedly showed up in the wrong areas. The officer said the animal that was sighted hadn’t yet breached any removal guidelines with one isolated, seemingly harmless stroll.
Some social media comments verified the presence of a breeding population of mountain lions tucked deep in the preserve’s lush ecosystem, referencing lion sightings from family members over the course of several years. With 847 acres of desert marshland rich in ecological diversity, it’s not hard to imagine that an animal would select this area for its breeding grounds.
The Nature Conversancy notes that the wetlands and its inhabitants include “over 200 species of birds, amphibians, including the northern leopard frog, and aquatic mammals such as the beaver, muskrat, and elusive river otter.” However, when questioned on the possibility of a breeding population of cougars living in the preserve, Jacobsen cast serious doubt. He said that the area has been a well-studied nature preserve for some time, encouraging its regular influx of visitors, and would certainly be aware if there was a breeding population of cougars present. He suggested that concerned residents visit wildawareutah.org for advice on how to handle wild animal encounters.
Many of the residents in the Portal Vista neighborhood who initially spoke-up online about the mountain lion sightings, weren’t available for comment, but Kya Marienfeld, who lives right next door to where the cougar was sighted had this to say: “I think it is really cool that such a secretive creature has shown itself in our neighborhood. The rare sighting of an animal that is always around, whether we realize it or not, is a good reminder that we’re privileged to live alongside nature and need to be mindful of how we coexist”
Interestingly, contrary to their rare visibility, cougar numbers are said to be high statewide. The Utah Wildlife Board just approved 61 more cougar hunting permits than last year for the upcoming season, raising the allowable cougar harvest to go from 581 to 642. While the maximum number of permitted cougar harvests is typically never met due to the difficulty in hunting the elusive animals, the vast majority of people will never see a cougar in their lifetime.