An unidentified man who was running on Horsetooth Mountain Open Space’s West Ridge Trail near Fort Collins, Colorado had a nasty encounter on with a juvenile cougar on Monday, which ended with the runner wounded and the animal strangled to death, the Coloradoan reported this week.
According to the Coloradoan, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has confirmed that a male cougar (Puma concolor couguar, also known as a mountain lion, puma, or catamount) weighing at least 80 pounds attacked the man and managed to inflict bite wounds to his face and wrist—before the tables turned and the man managed to suffocate it with his bare hands. The runner sustained “serious, but non-life threatening injuries” in the deeply unfortunate incident, CPW wrote in a statement, while wildlife officials took the corpse of the cougar for a necropsy.
Per the New York Times, a parks and wildlife spokesperson said that other animals had scavenged on the cougar’s corpse by the time they located it, though officials confirmed on Tuesday that it had indeed died from suffocation (and that it was, fortunately, not rabid).
“The runner did everything he could to save his life,” CPW Northeast region manager Mark Leslie said in the statement. “In the event of a lion attack, you need to do anything in your power to fight back, just as this gentleman did.”
According to CNN, the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources said that trails at the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space were closed on Tuesday due to rangers’ detection of “more mountain lion activity in the area.” They will reassess the situation on Friday, CNN wrote.
Though cougars were once hunted to near-extinction in the U.S., researchers believe their Western populations and those of other apex predators such as wolves and coyotes are beginning to rebound (though how much is still a matter of contention).
Scientists once categorized regional populations of the cats as distinct subspecies, though that view has diminished due to genetic research in 2000 that concluded all are the same subspecies. According to National Geographic, the Eastern variant has declined to the point of effective extirpation for at least the past 100 years, though Western cougars have been sighted moving into the Midwest, and a few males have been “found closer to the East Coast.”
There is one East Coast population that still exists, though it is not doing so hot. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has considered the Florida panther as a endangered subspecies (Puma concolor coryi) since 1967, when the Department of the Interior ruled it was approaching extinction and needed protected status. Taxonomic debates aside, one of the researchers who published the genetic study, Melanie Culver, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2017 it should continue to enjoy that status. It unfortunately appears to be headed towards total extirpation regardless, in no small part due to collisions with vehicles.
Colorado wildlife officials emphasized to the Times that mountain lions have only caused three confirmed deaths in the state since 1990, and under 12 in North America in over 100 years. However, the CPW website advises that interactions between the animals and humans have been increasing in recent years, with factors including encroachment on cougar territory, a measured increase in deer populations and a “presumed increase” in cougar populations, and people simply being more aware of their presence.
The CPW website advises that humans should travel in groups within the cats’ established ranges and never approach a cougar, ever, as they usually want nothing more than to be left alone by people and “will try to avoid a confrontation.”
If the cougar approaches, the website advises people to talk “calmly and firmly” to it while backing away slowly, as well as to avoid running and attempt to appear larger (such as by raising arms or expanding a jacket) if possible. If it appears to be behaving aggressively, CPW further advises people to try and dissuade it by throwing objects “without crouching down or turning your back” and to fight back with any available weapons, tools, or other objects in the event of an attack.