Kyle Burgess was a few miles running into Utah’s Slate Canyon on Saturday when he spotted what looked like four kittens near the trail. He stopped to make a video, unsure what kind of animal they were, but thinking they resembled bobcats.
He soon discovered he was wrong.
Immediately after Mr. Burgess turned on his camera, an adult mountain lion emerged from the thick undergrowth.
“I took three or four steps, and I saw mom cougar,” said Mr. Burgess, 26, in an interview Wednesday. “He made a crazy growl. I started backing up like crazy. I̵
For the next six minutes, while Mr. Burgess recorded the chase in a video that was Seen over three million times, the animal chased him as he walked backwards along the path, trying to both escape and confront the cougar by keeping an eye on it and filming it as it went.
Video of the meeting, at the foot of Utah County, fueled a the Internet’s fascination with humans borders on wild animals and how, or if, people leave.
In the interview, Mr. Burgess, who grew up in Utah, said he thought the meeting could have gone many ways in those six minutes. Without formal wildlife training, he winged it. He tried to stay calm, keeping a monologue within earshot of an animal who couldn’t understand a word but could upset the balance of his life.
Moments after Mr. Burgess first spotted the mountain lion, her instincts seemed to take over. The puma glided briefly into the woods, as if trying to outflank it.
Then he came out into the open again and walked towards him.
As Mr. Burgess shuffled backward, with the puma moving forward with determination, the curses flowed. He called the cougar “dude” several times. She begged him to “go get your kids.”
“I’m big and scary,” Mr. Burgess said at one point. He tested some of his roars.
He tried to flatter: “You’re a good kitten.”
But the mother cat was all maternal attitude. After about three minutes, he growled, leapt from his hips and attacked Mr. Burgess, his teeth bared and ears pinned back.
But the animal kept his distance.
“This is scary,” says Mr. Burgess in the video after nearly five minutes of oncoming cougar. “My heart is beating fast.”
Mr. Burgess said he remembered being told to “look great” when confronted by a wild animal. At about six feet tall and 150 pounds, he tried, raising his arms.
But every time he took his eyes off the cougar, she jumped, he said.
Scott Root, the Conservation Protection Officer at the Wildlife Resources Division of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, was notified of the meeting Saturday night. A team was dispatched the next morning to make sure the cougar and its young were no closer to the trail.
In his 30 years of work, Mr. Root has failed to recall a fatal attack by a cougar in the state, where they hunt deer, especially in the area where Mr. Burgess met.
Such encounters are rare, as cougars are solitary hunters who tend to keep their distance from humans, he said.
Unless they’re defending their young.
Mr. Root, who had seen Mr. Burgess’s video multiple times, said the mountain lion was making a show of attacks to scare him.
“A lot of that behavior was similar to what a bear or a moose would do – we call it bluffing,” he said. “Obviously it becomes clear that his number 1 goal was to get him out of the area.”
Looking big, backing up, and making noise were helpful, he added. Maintaining eye contact can also work, he said.
“But the wildlife is very unpredictable,” he added.
Debra Chase, chief executive of the Mountain Lion Foundation, noted that mountain lions are ambush hunters who try not to be seen when they are stalking. He said Mr. Burgess had done the right thing by backing up, talking loudly and not running, but this puppies should not be approached in the wild.
“She clearly didn’t see him as a prey,” Ms. Chase said in a statement. “The behavior was meant to kick him out, which he did very well. The lion mother was reacting to a perceived threat to her young. “
“We need to counter the idea that mountain lions are naturally dangerous to humans,” he said.
With about 15 seconds left in the video, the camera winces. Mr. Burgess said in the interview that he felt like there was enough distance to bend over and grab a stone, which he threw at the cat.
It turned out to be a turning point.
The cougar whirled away from him and back along the path. Mr. Burgess gave a few more cursing and exhaled.
Then he turned the camera on himself. “Look that?” he looked in the direction the cat had gone, along the path winding through wooded hills. “Yes,” said Mr. Burgess. “Don’t come back that way.”