Kyle Burgess was nearing the end of his 10-mile run at Slate Canyon in south Provo Saturday, Oct. 10, when he saw four small animals on the trail ahead. Initially unsure of what they might be, Burgess pulled out his phone and started recording.
“I didn’t know what they were, and I usually pull my phone out like, ‘Oh cool, animals,’” Burgess told reporters Monday, adding that he’d seen bobcats and other types of wildlife on the trail before.
As soon as the mother came into view, however, Burgess realized he was in trouble. The animals were mountain lion cubs, and their mother was not about to let Burgess walk by.
Burgess immediately started retreating from the animals, shouting a string of profanities as the mother began to follow. The stalking cougar locked eyes with Burgess and stayed within striking distance over the next six minutes.
“No! No! I’m big and scary!… Go away!… Go get your babies!” Burgess yelled at one point during the encounter.
The cougar continued to follow Burgess back the way he came, baring her teeth and growling at him while doing so. Burgess said every time he looked away or bent down for a rock to throw, the mountain lion lunged at him with her front paws and claws spread.
“Come on, dude,” Burgess said at one point. “I don’t feel like dying today.”
Burgess, a 26-year-old from Orem, said he had seen YouTube videos on how to react in such an encounter. He knew not to turn away from the animal. He knew to back away slowly and to “get big.” Finally, after nearly six minutes of backing away from the cougar, Burgess managed to grab a rock and launch it at the animal. The cougar turned around and took off running towards its cubs.
“So yeah, that just happened. Holy cow,” Burgess said in the video.
After waiting about 30 minutes, Burgess decided to continue down the trail where he ran into the animals. He was only a couple of miles from the mouth of Slate Canyon in south Provo, which was supposed to be the end of his 10-mile loop. Burgess didn’t want to run the seven miles back the way he came, so he finished his run with a stick and rock in hand but saw no sign of the animals.
“My emotions were a jumbled mess,” Burgess said Monday. “So it was kind of like … ‘OK, well this is going one of two ways. What’s the outcome going to be?’ Honestly right now it still feels like a dream.”
Burgess posted the six-minute video to social media on Sunday and has since watched it go viral. The video has over 500,000 views on Instagram TV as of Monday evening and over 75,000 on YouTube and has been reposted by news outlets across the country.
Some commenters criticized Burgess for not walking away from the cubs sooner, while others praised his ability to stay somewhat calm and not run away. Scott Root, central Utah’s conservation outreach manager for the Department of Wildlife Resources, told Burgess Monday that he “did great.”
“He backed away. He didn’t go toward the mountain lion or her kittens. He made a lot of noise,” Root said. “He stayed large, he stayed loud and he backed away from the area for quite a while. I think he did everything really well.”
Root went on to say he had never seen anything quite like Burgess’ video and hopes hikers can learn from his encounter.
“If you see a mountain lion or mountain lion kittens, stop and just back away from the area,” Root said. “If you find a dead deer, especially if it’s been covered up with dirt and sticks and such, stop and back away.”
Root pointed out that the DWR has a website with additional guidelines to how one should handle encounters with different types of wildlife while recreating outdoors. He noted that it’s not unusual for mountain lions to roam the Provo foothills. He did, however, say “it’s very rare” to have an encounter.
Root said he and his colleagues were notified of Burgess’ encounter Saturday night. They searched the area for the animals early Sunday but never found them.