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Colorado trail runner suffocates, kills mountain lion in self-defense

The man was able to fight and break free from the lion
Posted at 12:20 PM, Feb 05, 2019

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A man running on West Ridge Trail at Horsetooth Mountain Park killed an attacking juvenile mountain lion by suffocating it Monday afternoon, according to a release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The man said he heard something behind him on the trail and was attacked as he turned to investigate. The lion lunged at the runner, biting his face and wrist. But the man was able to fight and break free from the lion, according to CPW.

On Tuesday morning after an examination of the lion, CPW said the runner suffocated the animal while defending himself.

The victim, whose name has not been released, suffered facial lacerations, wrist injuries and scratches from the attack. Wildlife officials said he also had puncture wounds to his arms, legs and back.

“The runner did everything he could to save his life," said Mark Leslie, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northeast Region manager. "In the event of a lion attack you need to do anything in your power to fight back just as this gentleman did."

After the attack, the runner was able to hike out to safety and drove himself to a hospital, CPW said. His injuries were described as serious but not life-threatening. He told authorities about the attack, saying he had suffocated the cat.

Wildlife officers returned to the area and found the animal's body "within feet of several possessions that the victim asked the officers to look for on the trail," according to CPW.

The juvenile lion was taken to an animal health lab for a necropsy, where officials determined that the animal had indeed been suffocated.

Rebecca Ferrel with CPW said veterinarians will look at the cat's body for answers.

"Our veterinarians will take a look to determine if there was any kind of disease, if he was maybe starving, or if it just so happens that as young cat, he was still learning his hunting instincts and unfortunately the trail runner was kind of in the right place at the right time to trigger those instincts," she said.

The agency said the attack on the runner was likely triggered by the animal's hunting instincts. Wildlife offices said mountain lions will often instinctively try to chase and attack fast-moving animals, including humans.

However, mountain lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than 20 fatalities in North America in more than 100 years, according to CPW. Since 1990, 16 people have been injured in Colorado as a result of mountain lion attacks. Three people have died in that time frame from attacks.

“They are generally pretty elusive," Ferrel said.

CPW provided the following tips on what to do if you encounter a mountain lion:

  • Do not approach a lion, especially one that is feeding or with kittens. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
  • Stay calm when you come upon a lion. Talk calmly and firmly to it. Move slowly and never turn your back on it.
  • Stop or back away slowly, if you can do it safely. Running may stimulate a lion's instinct to chase and attack. Face the lion and stand upright.
  • Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you're wearing one. If you have small children with you, protect them by picking them up so they won't panic and run.
  • If the lion behaves aggressively, throw stones, branches or whatever you can get your hands on without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly. What you want to do is convince the lion you are not prey and that you may in fact be a danger to the lion.
  • Fight back if a lion attacks you. Lions have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have fought back with rocks, sticks, caps or jackets, garden tools and their bare hands successfully. CPW recommends targeting the eye and nose as these are sensitive areas. Remain standing or try to get back up.

Ferrel added that if you have any tools on you — like trekking polls or keys — to use those against the animal.

Gov. Jared Polis shared these same tips on his Facebook page, saying "don't mess with Colorado trail runners."