SAN, FRANCISCO/DENVER – A Colorado trail runner who survived a mountain lion attack by suffocating the animal said on Thursday that the encounter, which has made him the stuff of legend, was “a fight for survival.”
“One of the thoughts that I was having was, ‘Well, this would be a pretty crappy way to die,'” Travis Kauffman told reporters in his first public comments about the Feb. 4 attack. “It very much turned into just a full-on fight for survival,” added the 31-year-old, who had to have more than two dozen stitches to close wounds on his cheeks and nose.
Kauffman said he had gone out for a run when he was ambushed by the 80-pound (36-kg) cat.
“I heard some pine needles rustling behind me and I stopped and turned,” he recalled.
Kauffman, who is of slight build, said he felt his heart sink as he processed the situation. He raised his hands and began screaming to try to scare the animal as it rushed toward him.
“Unfortunately, it kept running, and then it eventually just lunged at me and . . . its jaws locked into my hand and wrist,” he said.
Kauffman said that as he and the mountain lion were locked in battle, they tumbled down a trail. He managed to get the upper hand as the cat ended up on its back.
He was able to pin the animal’s hind legs with his feet and hit it with a rock over the head before stepping on its neck and suffocating it.
“I stepped on its neck with my right foot, and just slowly after a few minutes I thought I would be getting close, and then it would start thrashing again,” he said. “And I had a few more scratches that resulted from those thrashes at that point, and I’d say another couple minutes later it finally stopped moving.”
The whole episode lasted about 10 minutes, after which Kauffman said he ran off, terrified that other mountain lions may be lurking about.
He said he eventually linked up with another runner and some hikers who gave him water and drove him to a hospital.
Kauffman said that although an adrenaline rush and survival instinct helped him overcome the encounter, the fact that he chose not to use his earphones to listen to music that day also played a part.
“For the most part, I don’t feel any residual trauma,” he told KUNC radio. “I tend to move forward — this is my personality.”
Authorities have praised his quick thinking, saying he handled the situation just right.
“We all feel extremely lucky that this attack was made by a young mountain lion on a knowledgeable runner, otherwise we may have been hosting a very different press conference,” said Mark Leslie, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife manager. “These animals are ambush predators, and are trained to take quick and lethal action whenever possible.”
Mountain lions, also known as pumas or panthers, are native to the Americas. Their range extends from the Canadian Yukon to the tip of South America, according to the National Wildlife Federation.
Cougar attacks on humans are rare, with fewer than 20 reported fatalities in North America over the last 100 years, according to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
There are between 4,500 and 5,500 mountain lions in Colorado, and since 1990 the state has seen 16 people injured and three killed from mountain lion attacks, the agency said.