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Valuable Lesson - Don't Poke A Cougar

Photo Credit: Kyle Burgess

There is a good chance you may have already seen the video on-line or on your favorite morning news show. Kyle Burgess, 26, was trail running back towards his vehicle in Slate Canyon Park near Provo, Utah when he encountered what he initially thought to be small bobcats. While filming Burgess realized the animals to actually be cubs of a mountain lion, and soon Mama Cougar made her appearance. What followed was a tense, six-minute video of Burgess desperately trying to escape the cougar, who on several occasions got close enough to lunge towards her target as Burgess swore, made himself look big, and at point exclaimed "I don't feel like dying today." More harrowing was Burgess, already tired from his run, was forced to climb uphill as the cougar gained ground and traction. Finally, while still managing to face the cougar and record, Burgess picked up a rock and threw at the cat, who finally reversed course and hot-tailed back down the trail. Burgess said he was able to get back to the trailhead after a 30 minute wait. After the incident was reported, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources attempted to find the cougars near the trail, but were unsuccessful, and decided to let the big cat's family remain undisturbed. The video gained more than six million views on YouTube, impressive numbers comparable to a Joe Rogan podcast. The encounter also provides lessons on backcountry situational awareness. I have had my own wildlife encounters on a smaller scale. I was about to complete a loop hike on a popular northern Wisconsin tail when I came across a large deer standing in the trail. At this point I expected the deer to do what deer always do, dart off to oblivion. Except this deer did not do that, resulting in a standoff until I came to the realization the deer meant business and not going anywhere. I made the wise decision around took the long way back to my car. I wound up late meeting my relatives for dinner and having to explain my predicament. In the past I also have done some swimming with snorkel gear off of La Jolla Cove/La Jolla Shores near San Diego. Many enthusiasts swim a half-mile course roped off and where several competitive swim events are held throughout the year.

What I later learned is sharks, including Great Whites, make seasonal appearances. The area is a protected habitat of sea lions, who like to sleep in until the Marine Layer wears off, and can wind up as prey.

Animal attacks in the wild remain rare, but gain publicity when they do occur. Backpacker magazine reports just 20 people have been killed at the hands of mountain lions over the past 100 years.

Backcountry locales have unique habitats based on location and climate. It is called wilderness for good reason, I personally have had the awesome opportunity to view moose, bears and other wildlife. There are many amazing creatures whose sheer size, speed, agility and strength put human professional athletes to shame. It is their habitat, their territory. The small danger exists of being misrepresented, being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even looked at as part of the potential food chain. Whether a hunter, snorkeler, hiker or diver, by all means enjoy the surroundings - but also use an abundance of caution and respect species that call their areas home.

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