The man who captured rare footage of an encounter with a cougar and her kittens gets a passing grade from a local wildlife expert for staying mostly calm while backing away — and not running — from the big cat.
But the man could have done more to scare away the mother cougar protecting her kittens, said Chris Darimont, a professor in the department of geography at the University of Victoria.
“I would give him a solid B. He could get in the A range if he threw rocks earlier, grabbed a big stick and waved it above his head to make him look bigger,” said Darimont, who is also the director of science at Raincoast Conservation Foundation, which advocates for greater environmental and wildlife protection.
Should you find yourself face-to-face with a cougar, you want to make yourself seem like a credible threat to scare the animal off, Darimont said, which is why you want to look as big as you can and arm yourself with rocks and sticks.
The six-minute video, shot from the man’s point of view, was taken in Utah and has been shared widely online in recent days.
It shows two cougar kittens on a trail as the man advances toward them. A mother cougar emerges from around the corner, running toward the man, who quickly retreats while swearing at the animal. He appears to walk backward while facing the cat, which continues down the trail toward him.
The cougar makes what appears to be several bluff charges at the man, launching toward him suddenly — ears back and teeth bared — before stopping about 10 metres away.
The encounter continues for several minutes, during which the man talks to the cat and occasionally roars at the animal.
“Dude, you’re scary. You’re a [expletive] scary kitty cat,” he can be heard saying.
The cougar charges several more times and growls at the man. At one point, the man appears to turn away from the cat, and it advances.
Darimont says you should never turn your back on a cougar — it can elicit a chase response, “which could end very badly.”
“The prevailing wisdom is to maintain eye contact when there is a clear threat by a cougar, again signalling that you would be a formidable foe,” he said.
He also recommends yelling in a loud, firm voice to show strength and dominance.
The cougar turns and runs off after the man appears to pick up a rock and throw it at the animal.
There’s a relatively high concentration of cougars on Vancouver Island, although Darimont said no one knows their exact population in the region, and the Island is a “hot spot” for human-cougar interactions.
Despite that, you’re more likely to be injured by a deer or a dog than by a cougar, because they’re elusive animals that know by sound or smell when people are nearby and leave before someone gets too close, he said.
The encounter shows a rare defensive interaction, where the mother and kittens were surprised by the man, who said in the video he was out for a run. The cougar was protecting her young, Darimont said, and not showing predatory behaviour. When on the offensive, the big cats generally ambush their prey.
“The reality with cougars is you rarely see them before they’re on top of you — literally,” he said.
Cougar sightings are reported fairly regularly on the Island, but attacks are rare, and people are a much bigger threat to the cats through trophy hunting than vice versa, he said.
You can watch the video here. Be warned that it contains profanity.