What to do if you see a cougar near your home.
Following the recent news that a cougar was killed by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for getting too comfortable around a Helena home, it seems appropriate to discuss the nuances of safely coexisting with these felids. Because cougars are wild animals, their behavior can be unpredictable – but not as unpredictable as you might think. As a result, learning a little bit about these cats can go a long way in helping you understand when they are or aren’t a threat, and how you can prevent conflict. So, if you see a cougar near your home, consider these points:
- Cougars have huge territories. If they are seen near human-occupied areas, they are likely only passing through.
- Cougars typically avoid people. Their presence near homes and developed areas will likely be short-lived.
- Assess your property. If a cougar is “hanging around,” there’s likely a reason why (i.e., there’s an attractant, such as food or shelter).
- Do not feed wildlife. The presence of prey species such as deer can draw predators into developed areas (especially in winter).
- Hang bird feeders in a manner that doesn’t attract small mammals.
- Keeping pets (easy targets) inside can help prevent conflict.
- Properly storing food and waste eliminates another potential attractant.
- “Cougar-proof” your porch, shed, or any other places around your home that a cougar might consider using as shelter.
- While cougar attacks are extremely rare, reduce the potential even further by staying inside and carefully supervising children if you know a cougar is in the area.
- If you’re excited by a recent sighting and get the urge to investigate the tracks or nearby area, only do so during the day, with a partner.
Understanding cougar behavior and observing these “rules” will go a long way in keeping you and the cougar safe. Of course, there are situations where cougars pose a real threat to public safety. If a cat is frequenting a human-occupied area and exhibiting aggressive behavior (i.e., stalking people), it may be habituated or even dangerous, and it is time to contact local wildlife officials. It is important to remember, however, this situation is extremely rare. Most cougar sightings will be an exciting, once-in-a-lifetime experience, not a burden or danger!
For more information on living in cougar country, visit:
Cougar Management Guidelines Working Group. (2005). Cougar management guidelines. (1st ed). Bainbridge Island, WA: WildFutures.
Hornocker, M., & Negri, S. (2010). Cougar: Ecology & conservation. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.