A large cougar in Utah is roaming free again thanks to the work of local wildlife officials. Workers from the Division of Wildlife and Resources (DWR) rushed to aid the cat, which had been caught in a foot trap. 

The video has sparked mixed emotions on social media, with many wondering why a tranquiliser wasn't used on the animal. Research ecologist Dr Michelle Larue, who has done extensive work on cougars, explains that while darting is typically the safest way to handle big cats, it's not always an option.

"These drugs and the people who know how to administer them are sometimes difficult to find – especially in very remote areas," she says. "It's absolutely unethical to allow an animal to be held in a trap for too long, so that may have been the reason they opted not to wait ... In general, I defer to the ethical nature, skill, and experience of wildlife biologists and conservation officers. They are not going to intentionally put an animal in harm's way, but sometimes they have difficult decisions to make. I suspect this was the case [here]."

The incident was reported to wildlife officials by a hunter who had accidentally snared the animal during bobcat season. Trapping cougars is strictly prohibited in Utah, but small furbearers (mammals traditionally hunted and trapped for fur) like bobcats are permitted during a designated hunting season.

Hard as this is to watch, it's important to note that the hunter did the right thing by alerting UDW staff. Regulations (like trap size) are in place to reduce non-target catches, but as you can see, it's tough to eliminate them entirely.

As for the animal's health, Larue suspects the cougar will be fine, but without medical attention it's hard to say with certainty. "It looks pretty healthy," she says. "I'd be concerned if it were acting lethargic or if it were tolerant of people coming anywhere near it."


Top header image: Dan Hutcheson/Flickr