'I just belted it:' Australians fight off cougar in Jasper National Park

The cougar leapt from the bushes behind them. "It froze and started hissing at us,” said Donald Lauder.

'I was thinking to myself, "How are we going to get out of this situation? This is pretty dire"'

Two Australian hikers in Jasper National Park in Alberta had a close encounter of the cougar kind earlier this week. (The Associated Press)

The cougar leapt from the bushes behind them.

"It froze and started hissing at us," said Donald Lauder.

He and his friend, Samantha Lean, both from Australia, were out for a bike ride in Alberta's Jasper National Park earlier this week. They left their bikes at the highway and walked through the brush down toward the river.

About 200 metres down the path, they heard rustling in the brush.

Nervous, she picked up a big stick. He picked up rocks.

The cougar jumped out behind them onto the path.

"We were both looking at it," Lauder said. "It stopped about a metre or metre and a half away."

"My first instinct was it must have been a coyote or something," said Lean. "It was hissing and it was huge."

She reacted first.

'I just belted it, as hard as I could'

"Luckily, Sam started hitting it with the stick pretty much straight away," Lauder said.

"I just belted it," she said, "as hard as I could."

He started chucking rocks. Maybe eight in total. He thinks he hit it six times.

It didn't budge. Thirty seconds passed. Forty.

"I guess it was waiting for us to run or something," he said.

"It was just staring at me," she said, "and hissing at me. I was thinking to myself, how are we going get out of this situation? This is pretty dire."

Then luck, perhaps, intervened. He threw another rock that skimmed the cougar's head and crashed in the bushes. Distracted, the animal turned and chased the rock.

They backed away, walked up the path and got to the highway, got on their bikes and rode away.

Lauder said he later spoke to a park ranger, who told him just how rare it is to see a cougar in the wild. It's believed the animal they saw was a juvenile male that had not come across humans before.

Cougars are elusive, so attacks on people are extremely rare  — with only 27 attacks and seven deaths reported across Canada in 100 years. Alberta's only documented cougar death was Frances Frost in Banff National Park in 2001.

"It was so majestic, beautiful animal, but at the time it was pretty scary," said Lean. "We definitely had a bit of a Canadian experience."

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