Colorado jogger suffocated mountain lion in life-or-death struggle

By Kirk Mitchell and Kieran Nicholson
Denver Post
The mountain lion attack took place Monday a 2,711-acre park west of Fort Collins, Colo.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officers confirmed through a necropsy that a jogger on Horsetooth Mountain in Larimer County survived a rare attack by a young mountain lion by suffocating the animal to death.

“After additional investigation, including examination of the lion, we have confirmed the victim’s account that he was able to suffocate the animal while defending himself from attack,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

Although the runner was bitten and injured after the mountain lion attacked him Monday from behind, he fought for his life and was able to kill the animal. Yet questions still remain.

It’s unclear whether the runner — who has not yet been identified publicly — strangled or smothered the mountain lion. He had no weapons, so he killed the cat with his bare, bleeding hands, state wildlife officials said.

“It’s an amazing story. Everyone is baffled and impressed,” said Rebecca Ferrell, spokeswoman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “He had no weapons, no knives or trekking poles with him. How did he do it? It’s pretty rare. That is definitely a twist on this, I’m sure.”

Monday’s incident took place in a 2,711-acre park west of Fort Collins in the foothills of Larimer County. It ranges in elevation from 5,430 feet to 7,255 feet and has 29 miles of recreational trails.

The victim was running on West Ridge Trail when he heard something behind him, Ferrell said. As he turned, he saw the mountain lion pounce for his head and neck, she said. The mountain lion bit him on the face and wrist. The victim managed to partially block the attack with his forearms, Ferrell said. He managed to fight and break free from the mountain lion.

Once he fended off the mountain lion, he counter-attacked the cat by getting on top of it, she said. There are still a few mysteries, though, including exactly how he suffocated the animal.

“We have several questions for him,” Ferrell said.

The victim was still in the hospital Tuesday receiving medical care, she said.

Wildlife officers searched the trail where the runner told them his fight with the mountain lion took place, a Parks and Wildlife news release says. They found the dead mountain lion within feet of possessions the victim asked the officers to look for, it says.

Although preliminary information from the necropsy confirms the jogger’s story about the cause of death, detailed information about the mountain lion’s injuries have not been released and could take several days before they are made public.

After being attacked Monday, the man hiked to safety and was able to get to a local hospital on his own, officials said. On Monday evening, the victim was treated for serious injuries including facial bite wounds and lacerations to his arms, legs and back.

Every type of potential scenario is being considered including the unlikely possibility that the mountain lion was rabid, Ferrell said. Doctors will treat him for possible infections, she said.

Mountain lion attacks in Colorado are rare, officials said. The act of running may have triggered the young lion’s instinct to hunt.

“Mountain lion attacks are not common in Colorado and it is unfortunate that the lion’s hunting instincts were triggered by the runner,” said Ty Petersburg, area wildlife manager for CPW. “This could have had a very different outcome.”

“The runner did everything he could to save his life,” said Mark Leslie, CPW northeast region manager.

Ferrell said there are different survival strategies when a wild animal attacks a human. For some, the best strategy is to curl up and make yourself as small as possible. Not so with a mountain lion, she said.

People attacked by mountain lions should do what this victim did: fight for your life.

To avoid a physical confrontation, a person should yell and make themselves appear bigger by standing tall and waving their arms and facing the mountain lion, Ferrell said.

“With a mountain lion, your best chance is to fight. If you make yourself small they will think you are prey,” Ferrell said.