How to Handle a Wild Cougar Encounter Safely, so You and the Animal Leave Unharmed

Cougars are the big cats making even bigger news this week.

On Sunday, hiker Kyle Burgess posted a video to Instagram of an encounter he had in Utah with a wild cougar — an animal also known as a mountain lion or a puma. The six-minute video begins with Burgess spotting cougar cubs and quickly turns into him trying to get out of the way of the cubs' protective mother, who is seen in the footage continually walking towards the hiker and growling. After backing away, putting distance between himself and the cubs, shouting and throwing things near the cougar, Burgess is able to walk away from the situation unharmed.

The video, understandably terrifying to many, is being used as a teachable moment by animal welfare organizations like the Humane Society of the United States to show what an encounter with a protective mother animal can look like. The footage Burgess shared shows a mother animal exhibiting natural behaviors to protect her cubs from potential threats. In situations like this, it is especially important not to instigate the animal, since this could lead to an attack and/or the animal being euthanized for getting too close to humans.

"The viral video of a runner & a mother cougar defending her kittens shows how critical it is to stay calm in these rare incidents. He did the right thing slowly backing away & yelling. It’s crucial to exit the conflict ASAP," Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a tweet about the clip.

Along with this insight from Block, HSUS is also sharing more detailed instructions on what to do if you find yourself stuck in a wild cougar encounter. The HSUS's full advice, which focuses on protecting both the animal and the human, can be found below.

What to do if you encounter a cougar:

  • Don’t run! Running will provoke the predatory chasing behavior of cougars, as it would with other predators such as bears, coyotes, and wolves.
  • Pick up small children or pets that are with you.
  • Directly face the cougar, but look at the cougar’s feet, not directly into their eyes, to avoid appearing aggressive.
  • If the cougar displays aggressive behavior try to appear larger — raise your arms or open your jacket over your head.
  • Make noise by yelling, blowing a whistle, or using an air horn.
  • If you have an umbrella, quickly open and close it while facing the cougar.
  • Do not approach the cougar. Give it ample space to run away – don’t corner it.
  • If there are cubs, be careful not to get between them and their mother.

If a cougar attacks:

  • In the VERY RARE event that you are attacked by a cougar, fight back in any way that you can. People have stopped attacks by hitting the cougar with sticks, their hands, baseball caps, and garden tools.
  • There are no repellents that have been registered for use on cougars, but the pepper (capsaicin) sprays sold to deter attacks by dogs, bears, and people or even a fire extinguisher may be effective.

For more information on how to coexist peacefully with mountain lions out in "cougar country" — including how to protect your pets from cougar run-ins — visit the HSUS' website.

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