FORT COLLINS, Colo. (CBS4) – A Colorado trail runner who fought off a juvenile mountain lion and killed it says his “fear response turned into more of a fight response” after he was ambushed by the animal. Travis Kauffman spoke publicly about the highly publicized event for the first time on Thursday afternoon at a news conference in Fort Collins.
The attack took place at Horsetooth Mountain Open Space in Larimer County on Feb. 4, and Kauffman has numerous wounds from it including lacerations on his nose and cheek. He had to have about 20 stitches. Kauffman wound up killing the animal by stepping on its neck while they were locked in combat and suffocating it.
Kauffman, who is originally from Arkansas, has lived in Colorado for a little more than 5 years and has been trail running for about 1. He says he often ran in the trail systems west of the city.
He was planning to go on a 12 to 15 mile run on the day of the attack. He started at Lory State Park and ran south through the park into neighboring Horsetooth Mountain park.
He said he first heard pine needles rustling behind him on the West Ridge Trail. He turned and he said “One of my worst fears was confirmed” — it was a mountain lion that was about 10 feet away.
“I just had my heart sink into my stomach a little bit,” he said in a video shown in Thursday’s news conference.
Kauffman raised his hands and yelled at the creature but it was to no avail. The lion then leaped at him and “latched onto” his wrist with its jaws.
“It was going up towards my face so I threw up my hands to kind of block my face, at which point it grabbed onto my hand and wrist and from there it started to claw at my face and neck. And that’s when kind of my fear response turned into more of a fight response,” Kauffman said.
As man and mountain lion engaged in battle, the two fell off the south side of the trail.
“From there it was just like a wrestling match,” he said.
He pinned down the lion’s back legs. He tried to stab the lion’s throat with sticks. (That didn’t work.) He picked up a heavy rock and managed to hit the lion in the head with it two times.
“I tried to give it a few bashes in the back of the head but unfortunately I kind of had a tough time swinging it with my arm still locked into the cat’s jaws,” Kauffman said.
Eventually he managed to step on the lion’s neck and was able to suffocate it.
“I was able to shift my weight and get a foot on its neck. … 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 — 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,” he said.
He said he feels like it’s unfortunate that the lion died, although he wasn’t sure at the time if it was in fact dead.
As he ran off he was worried that more lions might be lurking around. He ended up having to run approximately 3 miles to get out of the park. Another runner linked up with him on the trail and jogged with him, and another park visitor close to a trailhead gave Kauffman a ride to the hospital.
“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.”
The park was closed after the attack but reopened this week. Larimer County officials said they encountered more mountain lion activity in the area during their increased patrols on trails the day after the attack and wanted to “allow for a cooling off period before reopening.”
“We have removed additional lions that we believe are siblings of the lion involved in last Monday’s attack,” Leslie said.
Leslie said the siblings were also juvenile mountain lions. They will be moved to a rehabilitation facility and then the plan is to release them back into the wild.
Wildlife officials stressed that just because the park is back open, there’s still a chance visitors will encounter mountain lions there.
Watch Travis Kauffman’s complete news conference below: