Editor’s note: A video linked in this story contains strong profanity.
PROVO — Kyle Burgess was heading back from a trail run at Slate Canyon late Saturday afternoon when he came across four creatures on the trail ahead of him.
“Really, I didn’t know what they were, and I usually pull my phone out like, ‘Oh cool, animals,'” he recalled Monday in an interview with reporters, adding that he’s seen all sorts of the wildlife near the trail before.
Burgess quickly realized they were cougar cubs. Before he could react, the 26-year-old Orem man found himself face to face with the cubs’ mother in a tense encounter he caught on camera.
The close encounter happened at about 5 p.m. on a canyon trail in southeast Provo. In a 6-minute video posted to Instagram TV, Burgess is focused on two of the four cougar cubs playing as he walks down the canyon. About 10 seconds in, the cubs’ mother appeared from around a bend in the path and comes toward Burgess.
Burgess instantly recognized the potential danger. He backed away, profanely yelling at the cougar to stop following him. At times, the stalking cougar hissed at Burgess, looking as if it was going to lunge at him.
“No! No! Go away! Please go away!” Burgess yells, at one point during the encounter.
Finally, after a little more than 5 minutes of following him as he backed away, Burgess was able to get ahold of a rock and toss it at the animal. The cougar turned around and left.
“So yeah, that just happened … holy cow. Yeah, not going back that way,” Burgess says in the video, moments after the cougar finally leaves.
WATCH: “C’mon dude! I don’t feel like dying today!”
A cougar stalked a man for over 6 minutes during his run through Slate Canyon near Provo. pic.twitter.com/h5WATRNTVG
— KSL NewsRadio (@kslnewsradio) October 12, 2020
Reflecting two days later, Burgess said he was filled with different emotions at that moment. Even now, he can’t believe what happened. It felt like more of a dream than reality, he said.
Burgess said he was full of emotions — scared, but also full of adrenaline. He thought the cougar would attack, especially as it had closed within 4 or 5 feet of him.
“I felt for sure like ‘this is going to hurt, this won’t be fun,’ especially all those times where she kind of pounces at me,” Burgess said with a nervous chuckle.
“It was a very long 6 minutes,” he added.
Burgess said he waited about half an hour before he walked back down the about 2 miles of the canyon. He posted the video on social media Sunday, and it had received over 50,000 views by noon Monday.
He also reported the sighting to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. A pair of state conservation officers searched the canyon Sunday but did not locate the cougar or its cubs, said Scott Root, the division’s outreach manager.
Root watched the video Monday. He called it “alarming” and “kind of a scary video to watch.”
“It’s a great reminder that we’re not alone out there,” he said, adding that he believed Burgess didn’t know what he was walking toward until it was too late, and that it was clear the mother cougar wanted Burgess to step away from her cubs.
“She wanted to make sure that he was not a threat. She let him know very well that you need to get out of here, and he did that,” Root continued.
Burgess explained Monday that he camps often and he’s seen YouTube videos on how to react in a situation. His first reaction was to “get big” and start barking at the creature. He also attempted to pick up rocks a few times as the cougar stalked him. Each time Burgess lost focus on the cougar, the cougar appeared more likely to pounce until he was able to toss a rock at the cougar.
The DWR has a website dedicated to how people should handle interactions with different wildlife when recreating outdoors. Tips for cougar safety include don’t jog alone, keep campsites clean, and leave areas where a dead animal is found because it might be a cougar kill — and a cougar could return to defend its food.
As for how to handle an encounter, people should stop immediately and not run away. They should maintain eye contact, stand up tall, and make themselves look bigger by raising and waving their arms or jacket above their head.
Other tips on the website include:
- Pick up children and pets or keep them very close
- Do not crouch or squat
- Talk firmly in a loud voice, back away slowly, and leave the area
- Fight back if you are attacked. Protect your head and neck.
- If you are aggressive enough the cougar will probably flee
Aside from the tips on the website, Root said picking up a rock would be a good idea for defense in a possible attack, which is what Burgess did. That’s why he believed Burgess handled the situation about as perfectly as anyone could in the moment.
“He didn’t turn around and run, which was the right thing. He made lots of noise; he didn’t crouch or do anything to get smaller. We want to appear big, so basically he did great,” Root said. “I really admire that he did everything right.”
Burgess said the encounter has given him a renewed respect for the power of cougars. He said he knows the cougar was just trying to protect her cubs.
Contributing: Dan Rascon, KSL TV