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Colorado Man Tells His Mountain Lion Attack Story


In the foothills outside Fort Collins, Colo., there was a fight to the death. A Colorado man was attacked by a young mountain lion. He was unarmed. And with nothing more than rocks and his hands and feet, he killed it. Luke Runyon from member station KUNC recently spoke with him about what happened.

LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: Travis Kauffman headed out for a run around noon in shorts and a fleece pullover. He skipped the earbuds, instead opting for the sounds of his own footsteps on the trail. About halfway through his run, the 31-year-old, at 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, started to descend on a narrow, wooded section of trail.

TRAVIS KAUFFMAN: And I just kind of heard some pine needles rustling behind me. And I stopped and turned.

RUNYON: It's usually a deer or a squirrel.

KAUFFMAN: In this case, it was, in fact, a mountain lion. And so I remember seeing that and just having my gut feel the full impact of the situation.

RUNYON: The juvenile cougar was barreling down the trail after him. Kauffman put up his arms and screamed in an attempt to scare the cat away.

KAUFFMAN: Unfortunately, it kept running. And then it eventually just lunged at me. And at that point, I was able to get my arms up kind of in front of my face and block its initial, like, lunge with its claws and mouth. Its jaws locked onto my hand and wrist and pretty much stayed there the whole time.

RUNYON: The cougar wrapped itself around Kauffman's body and dug its front claws into his back. He tried to throw it off, but with its mouth clamped around his wrists, the two ended up tumbling more than 20 feet off the trail into a gully.

KAUFFMAN: But during that fall, the cat ended up on its back.

RUNYON: Kauffman used one of his legs to pin the animal's hind quarters to the ground and then began fighting back. He grabbed sticks, but they were rotted and crumbled when he tried to use them against the cat. With his free hand, he found a rock and began hitting it over the head.

KAUFFMAN: I got my right foot onto its neck. And then I was able to get some weight onto its windpipe. And that's what eventually suffocated it. And then, at that point, it released my hand.

RUNYON: The whole battle lasted about 10 minutes. After suffocating the cat and covered in scratches and puncture wounds, Kauffman started running again. He eventually encountered a few other hikers who helped Kauffman to the emergency room. He got more than two dozen stitches on his face, closing the wounds on his cheeks and nose. The county temporarily closed down the park shortly after the attack.

Ty Petersburg of Colorado Parks and Wildlife says attacks like this are rare. But in many places in the country, people are encroaching on mountain lion habitat. He says Kauffman did everything right.

TY PETERSBURG: He could almost write our pamphlet. If you encounter a lion, put your hands up. Be big. Yell at it. Use sticks or rocks - whatever you can. And if you have that encounter, fight back.

RUNYON: For his part, Travis Kauffman says his takeaway from this incident is that rugged, mountain landscapes might feel like safe spaces for recreation, but they're wild and should be treated that way.

KAUFFMAN: If you come down to it and you're being attacked and you don't really have much recourse besides killing the animal to get yourself out safely.

RUNYON: He says his decision before he started running - not to listen to music - saved his life. He heard the mountain lion coming before he saw it, and that might have given him the edge. For NPR News, I'm Luke Runyon in Fort Collins, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "AWAKE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As KUNC’s reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.