A Utah Man Meets a Cougar. Chasing and Swearing Ensue.

October 15, 2020 

Kyle Burgess was a few miles into a run in Utah's Slate Canyon on Saturday when he spotted what looked like four kittens near the trail. He paused to take a video, unsure what kind of animal they were but thinking they resembled bobcats.

He soon found out he was wrong.

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Just after Mr. Burgess turned on his camera, an adult mountain lion emerged from the thick brush.

"I took three or four steps, and I saw mama cougar," Mr. Burgess, 26, said in an interview on Wednesday. "She made a crazy growl. I started backing up like crazy. I am just running backward."

For the next six minutes, as Mr. Burgess recorded the pursuit in a video that has been viewed over three million times, the animal pursued him as he hiked backward up the trail, trying both to escape and to confront the cougar by keeping an eye on her and filming as he went.

Video of the encounter, in the foothills of Utah County, has fed an internet fascination with humans' brushes with beasts in the wild, and how -- or whether -- people get out of them.

In the interview, Mr. Burgess, who grew up in Utah, said he thought the encounter could have gone any number of ways in those six minutes. With no formal wildlife training, he winged it. He tried to stay calm, maintaining a monologue within earshot of an animal that could not understand a word but could tip the balance of his life.

Moments after Mr. Burgess first spotted the mountain lion, her instincts seemed to kick in. The cougar briefly slipped into the woods, as if trying to outflank him.

Then she appeared in the open again and walked toward him.

As Mr. Burgess traipsed backward, the cougar padding along in determined pursuit, the expletives flowed. He called the cougar "dude" several times. He begged it to "go get your babies."

"I'm big and scary," Mr. Burgess said at one point. He tested out a few roars of his own.

He tried flattery: "You're a good little kitty cat."

But the mother cat was all maternal attitude. After about three minutes, she growled, sprang from her haunches and charged at Mr. Burgess, her teeth bared and ears pinned back.

But the animal kept her distance.

"This is scary," Mr. Burgess says in the video after nearly five minutes of oncoming cougar. "My heart is racing."

Mr. Burgess said he remembered being told to make yourself "look big" if confronted by a wild animal. At about six feet tall and 150 pounds, he tried, holding his arms up.

But every time he would take his eyes off the cougar, she would lunge, he said.

Scott Root, the conservation outreach manager at the Utah Department of Natural Resources' Division of Wildlife Resources, was alerted to the encounter on Saturday night. A team was sent the next morning to make sure the cougar and its young were no longer near the trail.

In his 30 years on the job, Mr. Root could not recall a fatal attack by a cougar in the state, where they hunt deer, especially in the area where Mr. Burgess's encounter occurred.

Such encounters are rare, as cougars are solitary hunters that tend to keep a distance from humans, he said.

Unless, that is, they are defending their young.

Mr. Root, who had seen Mr. Burgess's video several times, said the mountain lion was making a show of attacks to scare him off.

"A lot of that behavior was similar to what a bear or moose would do -- we call it a bluff charge," he said. "Obviously it becomes apparent her No. 1 goal was to get him out of the area."

Appearing large, backing away and making noise were helpful, he added. Maintaining eye contact can also work, he said.

"But wildlife is very unpredictable," he added.

Debra Chase, chief executive of the Mountain Lion Foundation, noted that mountain lions are ambush hunters that try to stay out of sight when they are stalking. She said that Mr. Burgess had done the right thing by backing away, speaking loudly and not running but that baby animals should not be approached in the wild.

"She clearly did not view him as prey," Ms. Chase said in a statement. "The behavior was meant to chase him away, which it did very well. The mother lion was reacting to a perceived threat to her young."

"We need to counter the idea that mountain lions are naturally dangerous to humans," she said.

With about 15 seconds left in the video, the camera jerks. Mr. Burgess said in the interview that he felt as if there was enough distance for him to bend down and grab a rock, which he lobbed at the cat.

It proved a turning point.

The cougar wheeled around, darting away from him and back down the trail. Mr. Burgess unleashed a few more expletives and exhaled.

Then he turned the camera on himself. "See that?" he gazed off into the direction where the cat sprang off, down the trail winding between forested hills. "Yeah," Mr. Burgess said. "Not going back that way."

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