SALT LAKE CITY — A police officer shot and killed a charging mountain lion in downtown Salt Lake City Tuesday.
The animal was spotted by a Gold Cross ambulance crew near 600 East and South Temple about 3 a.m. Tuesday. When officers arrived, the mountain lion had moved to 15 South and 500 East, where it was cornered near an unoccupied building, Salt Lake Police Sgt. Brandon Shearer said.
In hopes of tranquilizing and relocating the mountain lion, representatives from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources were called to the area as officers held the large cat at bay for more than an hour, Shearer said.
However, the DWR biologist who shot at the cat with a tranquilizer dart missed, and the animal got up and rushed at an officer.
The mountain lion "got fairly close to the officer before he put it down," Shearer said.
"The officer was concerned not only for his own safety but the safety of the neighborhood if the mountain lion did get away from them," the sergeant said.
Riley Peck, wildlife program manager for the DWR's central region, shared his appreciation for the officer's support, noting that even if the big cat had been hit with the dart, the tranquilizer would not have taken effect immediately.
The animal's appearance downtown is rare but not unprecedented. The young male mountain lion had likely recently left its mother's side and would have been looking for territory of its own, Peck said.
"It is rare, but it's not completely unusual for us to see a mountain lion in town," Peck said.
Anytime a wild animal makes it into an area where it shouldn't be, Peck said the priority is to capture the animal and release it later.
"In a perfect world, we're always trying to eliminate the safety threat of a wild animal being in close proximity to people and get it back in its natural habitat," he said. "That attempt was made today, and unfortunately we were unsuccessful."
Because the mountain lion was in a small area near the unoccupied building, officers felt they didn't need to close roads or areas of the neighborhood.
Shearer has worked with Salt Lake police for about 14 years and has seen cases of mountain lions in urban areas twice in the past year, posing a threat to pets and humans.
"Our goal is to work with the DWR to get them safely out of the city without harming them, but sadly that wasn't an option this time," he said.
Anyone who encounters a wild animal where it shouldn't be, such as a neighborhood or a park, should go inside, call police dispatch and wait for law enforcement and the DWR to help, Peck said.
"Typically they're not in the city seeking people, they're trying to find their own habitat and have just gotten a little bit lost, but it's still very important to stay safe and stay away from the animal," Peck said.