Officials continued a day-old mountain lion hunt in the middle of Salt Lake's industrial district Monday.
"I've been here 15 years, and I've never had a cougar in the city," said Salt Lake Police Lt. Roy Wasden. "Deer, yes. Maybe a porcupine or skunk."Two lions, thought to be a mother and her cub, were spotted frolicking in a field amid warehouses and manufacturing plants near 1400 South 300 West at 1:45 p.m. Sunday, Wasden said. The last sighting was at 7:30 p.m. Sunday behind Nector's Restaurant, 979 S. State. A tracking dog sniffed the lion tracks in the snow Monday and traced a route south through a fence, but the rest of the trail appeared cold.
"The bad deal about this is they're going to spend the day backyarding," Wasden said.
Wasden said the mother cougar was described as 150 pounds, while the cub is thought to be about 100 pounds. Both animals were said to have long, swishing tails.
Jordan Pederson, of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, said reports of wild animals in urban areas are becoming common throughout the West. Mountain lions were captured recently in Sacramento and Denver, and wildlife experts are planning an April conference to discuss the problem.
A woman working inside a cafe near 1400 South and 300 West saw the lions near a trash container Sunday afternoon and notified police, who determined that the tracks clearly were not those of any common urban animal.
"It would appear that they've been here at least several days," Pederson said. "There are a lot of old tracks as well as fresh ones."
A cub generally will stay with its mother for about two years before setting out on its own, Pederson said. Although mountain lions usually remain hidden during daylight hours, they sometimes venture out into the open for food, he added.
Salt Lake animal control officers Dave Tribby and Adam Davies speculated that the lions may have reached the industrial district via a railroad corridor or that possibly they were brought into the city as cubs and then abandoned when they grew unmanageable.
Whatever their origin, the animals pose a serious threat, Wasden said. "It's important that we get the word out that they are around. The concern is kids more than adults."
Most businesses in the area were closed Sunday and traffic was light. Police and animal control searchers found tracks throughout the area Sunday, indicating to Pederson that the mountain lions' territory is fairly widespread. "I would caution anyone seeing these animals to carefully note their location but stay away from them. If you see them, call the police immediately."
The goal is to corner the animals, tranquilize them and return them to their natural habitat without harming them, Pederson said.