Wild cougars went on a rampage in and around three small southern Utah towns last week, killing and maiming family pets while leaving the 680 residents of the remote area frightened by their bizarre antics.

Two of the mountain lions are dead, one shot on the back porch of a home while holding a dog in its mouth. The other was tracked and killed by lion hunters and their hounds. A third mountain lion is still at large and a fourth may also be roaming in the area.The unusual episodes, which occurred at night, prompted officials to warn residents in and around Trop-ic, Henrieville and Cannonville to be cautious while outdoors. They were especially concerned about children who sometimes play in fields.

The communities are located several miles east of Bryce Canyon National Park.

Cougars generally don't enter inhabited areas. Stan Mecham and his son, McLain, who are professional lion hunters, theorized that one 2-year-old lion may have previously suffered brain damage, which may have caused it to enter inhabited areas after it was unsuccessful finding prey in the wild. The animal was malnourished and there was evidence that it had suffered a head injury.

The other cougar killed was healthy, however.

The first episode began shortly after midnight in Hen-rieville near the Monte Twitchell home when a neighbor, Lynn Shakespear, saw a cougar crouched in the middle of the street. He watched the lion attack Twitchell's dog and then leap into a horse pen, frightening the animals.

While pounding on the door of the house to awaken the Shakespear family, Twitchell saw the big cat coming toward him but it finally stopped, became frightened and ran away. Twitchell and Shakespear followed the animal in a pickup truck, shooting at it three times as it ran into the hills. It escaped, apparently unharmed.

Shortly before daylight the Twitchell family, including his wife and four sons ranging in age from 2 to 10, were awakened by a mountain lion's piercing scream. The same animal had apparently returned.

When they turned on a house light, they saw the cougar lying on the back porch with the family's dog in its mouth. Twitchell pushed the barrel of his hunting rifle through a narrow opening in the door within inches of the lion's head and pulled the trigger. The big cat was killed, and the dog lived.

The dog was picked up by conservation officer Terry Smith of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to check it for rabies, a precaution when a domestic animal is bitten by a wild one.

The second cougar was sighted near Tropic after the Carl Shakespear family heard their dogs barking. The cougar killed a family cat and injured a dog before it was frightened off by the Shakespears and ran away.

When the Mechams arrived on the scene at daylight, they pursued the cougar with hounds. The dogs caught up with the cougar about three hours later and were fighting the lion when the hunters arrived on the scene. It injured three hounds before it was shot and killed.

Stan Mecham said the cougar was healthy and one of the strongest he had ever seen. "That's the longest chase I've ever had in all my years of cougar tracking."

The lion hunter said a big cat was sighted on a haystack late last summer by Carl Shakespear's daughter, Kara, 13. It may have been the same animal the hunters killed.

Another lion was seen in Henrieville by Lyllian Shake-spear and Jennie Chynoweth a few days before the bizarre incidents occurred. Mecham believes the lion may have been the same one that was killed by Twitchell and that it may have killed a dog on the Larry Woodgeard ranch between Cannonville and Henrieville.

The Mechams said they have found tracks of yet another cougar, this one with a missing toe on its hind paw, roaming near Henrieville.