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How a Man Killed a Mountain Lion with His Bare Hands

We were skeptical—until we learned the gruesome details from the scene of the attack

An adult mountain lion. (Photo: Muzina Shanghai/Creative Commons)

On Monday, a trail runner in Colorado was attacked by a mountain lion. While fighting to defend his life, the man managed to kill the lion. This is how he did that. 

The reports I read this morning were almost unbelievable. I’d heard of people fighting off mountain lions and surviving attacks, but the idea of someone managing to kill the apex predator with their bare hands? I was skeptical. But here was the official report from Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

“The victim of the attack described hearing something behind him on the trail and was attacked by a mountain lion as he turned around to investigate. The lion lunged at the runner, biting his face and wrist. He was able to fight and break free from the lion, killing the lion in self-defense. The runner sustained serious, but non-life threatening injuries as a result of the attack.”

“We’ve had a few false reports here of animal attacks there didn’t turn out to be factual,” Rebecca Ferrell, a public information officer for CPW, told me. “In this case, everything that the runner told us was completely credible. The injuries he sustained, as well as the injuries we found on the body of the mountain lion, corresponded with his story. We have zero reason to believe that anything he told us was false.”

Ferrell explained that there were two main factors in the runner’s ability to survive the attack: The age of the animal and the runner's preparedness.  

“We’re still trying to get an official size and weight through the necropsy process,” she said. “That’s a tricky one for us in this particular instance because mountain lions do tend to exhibit cannibalistic behavior, and from the time the gentleman was attacked to when we got there, its body had already been fed on. So several of his organs and entrails were already gone.”

They do know that the mountain lion was younger than a year old. Most mountain lions are born between June and October, which would make this one anywhere from three to eight months old, according to the CPW. They haven't yet determined the lion’s gender, so that would put this one anywhere from 20 to 60 pounds.

The lion's youth helps explain both the man's ability to fight it off, as well as the attack in the first place. “There are a couple of things that we assume when these sort of attacks happen,” said Ferrell. “It’s either a very young mountain lion that’s still learning its hunting skills or it’s very old and has lost its abilities.” In this case, the very young mountain lion was still learning to hunt and hadn’t yet gained the experience necessary to know to avoid humans. Mountain lion attacks on humans are very, very rare; this particular animal didn't know any better. 

CPW isn’t releasing the identity of the trail runner, as he’s still recovering from non-life threatening injuries at a hospital and “processing what he went through both physically and mentally,” said Ferrell. She described him in his early 30s, “in very good shape,” and as someone who’s done his homework on how to survive an encounter with a mountain lion. “He remembered reading about the situation in Washington, where two friends were out mountain biking when they were attacked by a mountain lion.” She says he’d read advice online “and followed every piece of advice exactly.”

Ferrell related the man’s account of the attack. He told her he was running along a trail outside Fort Collins when he heard a noise behind him and turned around. “When he first saw the cat, he turned toward it and tried to do a bit of a stare down,” she says. The man started to back away, while trying to make himself look big and shouting. But the cat still pounced. 

“His adrenaline was obviously off the chart, his instincts kicked in, and he used whatever it was that he had at his disposal to survive," Ferrell said. The man was unarmed, without even a knife. So he used rocks to pound at the mountain lion before he was able to get his hands around its throat. “He used his hands and feet to basically choke the animal,” Ferrell said. 

Even a very young, very small mountain lion must have made a fierce opponent. “[The runner's] injuries are serious, but not life threatening,” Ferrell says. “Considering what he went through, he’s in pretty good condition.”

Ferrell also said that the man has received “a few marriage proposals online” since the incident. She described his actions as nothing short of “heroic.”

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