SALT LAKE CITY — A Salt Lake City man had a terrifying confrontation with a mountain lion Thursday while hiking in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and he captured the encounter on video.
Jared Smith told FOX 13 he was hiking on Broads Fork Trail when the cougar suddenly appeared and followed him within 20-30 feet.
"I was running back down the trail and was probably about a mile from getting back to the parking lot when I heard something off to the side of the trail," he said. "[I] looked and there was a cougar probably 15-20 feet away from me… Definitely startled me."
Heeding the advice of wildlife experts, Smith said he acted calmly while backing away and tried to appear "bigger."
"He basically followed all the recommendations that we give... Make yourself big, use a loud voice, maintain eye contact and back away slowly," said Faith Heaton Jolley with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "That's exactly what we tell people to do because if they turn and run, sometimes it can trigger that prey, chase instinct that cougars have."
Despite his actions, the cougar continued to follow him.
"Periodically, the cougar would pounce and was baring its teeth and kick its legs and its tail up, almost like a little sprint right at me," Smith said. "If you watch the full video, you can see my voice kind of crack at those points in time because it scared me."
In the video, Smith is heard saying repeatedly, "I'm going away, I promise I'm not going to bug you" as the cougar followed and hissed at him.
Smith posted about the incident on Facebook, saying he thinks the animal's cubs were nearby.
"Honestly for me the thing that’s most important to me is my family and I have a wife and a child and thinking I need to make sure I make it home from this," Smith said. "I know cougar attacks are very uncommon but I believe in this situation she was probably protecting her cubs so I know they’ll do just about anything to keep their cubs safe."
After about five minutes, Smith said the cougar left the trail and he was able to get back to his vehicle safely.
"It was about five minutes into the encounter that she just veered off to the side of the trail and I continued to back up for another minute or two, continuing to talk because I couldn’t see where she went off to," he said. "After a couple of minutes of doing that, once I felt like she was no longer close to me, I started running down the trail trying to distance myself as much as I could."
Smith wrote in a Facebook post he is a little rattled from the encounter, but doing OK otherwise.
"This definitely shook me more than the hundreds of hours I’ve spent hiking and climbing and other outdoor experiences, just because of the prolonged nature of it," he said.
Smith's wife said her husband couldn't think of anything else after returning home.
"He was rattled all night long. He just kept talking about how scared he was and went over it over and over again," said JaNae Smith. "I mean, you could tell he was just absolutely terrified, and yeah, I was just happy that he got home okay and that he wasn't harmed at all."
Despite being rattled, Smith says the encounter is not going to prohibit him from hitting the trails again soon.
"I definitely will take a few days to process this before I got back, but I love it too much," he said. "I realize this is really uncommon. It’s not something that’s probably going to be happening repeatedly. I’ll be back on the trails before long."
Wild Aware Utah gives the following tips for staying safe in mountain lion country:
The main prey of cougars is deer, so they will be found wherever deer are. They will also eat elk, antelope, small mammals and birds.
- Remove wildlife attractants from your property, including pet food, water sources, bird feeders and fallen fruit. If your property and landscaping are attractive to deer and other wildlife, cougars may follow the wildlife into your property while searching for prey.
- Do not leave children outside unattended, especially at dawn and dusk.
- As a deterrent, install outside and motion sensitive lighting around your property.
- Trim vegetation and remove woodpiles to reduce hiding places for wildlife.
- Bring pets and livestock inside at night or secure them in a barn or kennel with a top.
- Provide secure shelter for hobby farm animals such as poultry, rabbits and goats.
PREVENTING CONFLICTS WHILE RECREATING
- Do not hike or jog alone.
- Travel in groups and keep everyone together including children and dogs.
- Make noise while hiking to alert cougars of your presence.
- Leave the area if you find a dead animal, especially deer or elk, it could be a cougar kill. The cougar may return and defend its food.
- Keep a clean camp. Store food and garbage in an odor-free, locked container or hung between two trees where cougars (and bears) cannot get it.
IF YOU ENCOUNTER A COUGAR
- Stop. Never run from a cougar. Do not approach the cougar.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Pick up children and pets or keep them very close.
- Stand up tall.
- Do not crouch or squat.
- Make yourself look bigger by raising and waving your arms or jacket above your head.
- Talk firmly in a loud voice, back away slowly and leave the area.
- Fight back if you are attacked! Protect your head and neck.
- If you are aggressive enough the cougar will probably flee.
If you have an encounter with aggressive wildlife, please alert the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources office near you. If the encounter or sighting occurs after hours or on the weekend, please call your local police department or county sheriff’s office, who can contact a conservation officer to handle the situation.