By BROOKE SNAVELY
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
A Utah man’s six-minute long encounter with a cougar protecting its kittens serves as a reminder that Central Oregon is cougar country, and locals need to know what to do if they encounter one of the big predatory cats.
Kyle Burgess was jogging in a canyon near Provo, Utah Saturday when he saw four cougar cubs, took out his phone and started recording a video that’s since gone viral.
Burgess told the Deseret News when he saw the kittens’ mother approach, he knew he was in trouble.
As Burgess backed away, the mother cougar followed him for six minutes — hissing, growling, and lunging.
The state of Oregon publishes a Living with Cougars brochure to help prepare folks who are heading to cougar country and could encounter one.
The very first recommendation is to stand your ground and look big.
The third recommendation is slowly back away.
So which is it? We asked an expert to find out.
“If it does start to approach you, that’s when I would stand my ground, get big, throw rocks, yell, holler, whatever you can do to get that cougar to back down,” said Corey Heath, Bend District Wildlife Biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “If it keeps approaching, that’s when you are going to have to make a decision. Back away. Back away slowly. Don’t turn and run from the cat. That would just trigger its chase response or its attack response.”
But do locals know what to do? We visited the Deschutes River South Canyon Trail – an area with cougar sightings from time to time – to find out.
“I know to look big and slowly back off. Never run because the cougar would probably chase you. And yell, loudly,” said Devin Juro of Bend.
Juro says she lost her cat a week ago and wonders if a cougar was responsible. Despite that, she says she won’t stop running and hiking with her dogs.
Mischa Potuzak had a cougar encounter while hiking in southern California.
“I looked up and I thought I saw a coyote go across the trail and then when I started thinking about it, no, the head is really boxy and it’s got a really big thick tail and it’s way too big to be a coyote,” Potuzak said. “I slowly turned around and kept looking over my shoulder because I know they like to stalk from above and I slowly walked out. I picked up a couple of rocks and went down to the bottom of the trail.”
Heath says cougar sightings are common in Central Oregon.
Most of the time, he says, people see a cougar for an instant before it disappears into the woods.
Heath believes the Utah cougar encounter was different because of the kittens.
“She was trying to protect the kittens. She was trying to get him to get out of the area, to back down, to move away, which is what he did,” he said. “If he had stood his ground in that case, with the kittens, I think the outcome probably would have been different.”
The Utah cougar encounter ended when Burgess threw a rock and the cougar turned and ran away.
The guidelines for how to interact with wildlife apply not just to cougars but bears and deer.
Most complaints about wildlife in Central Oregon are about deer attacking people and dogs in defense of fawns.