Travis Kauffman fought off and killed a mountain lion with his bare hands
The mountain lion killed by Colorado runner Travis Kauffman in February was a kitten, according to a necropsy report.
The report, a summary of which was obtained by PEOPLE, estimated the lion was between 3 to 4 months old. The lion weighed 24 pounds after death, though officials estimated the animal’s live weight was closer to 35-40 pounds.
Kauffman, 31, went out for a trail run on Feb. 4 at Horsetooth Mountain Park in northern Colorado. The activity took a terrible turn when he heard the sound of pine needles crackling behind him and soon came eye-to-eye with a juvenile mountain lion, he recalled to reporters earlier this month. When the lion attacked Kauffman, he fought it off, eventually killing the animal by hitting it with a rock and choking it.
Weeks later, the newly released report performed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife veterinarians in Fort Collins verified the lion’s cause of death. “Necropsy findings suggest blunt trauma to the head, and also support the victim’s description of strangulation based on petechial hemorrhages to larynx and trachea,” the report said.
In February, Kauffman spoke out in a press conference about the attack.
“One of my worst fears was confirmed,” Kauffman told reporters, according to CBS Denver. “I just had my heart sink into my stomach a little bit.”
Kauffman then described the attack in detail.
“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,” Kauffman explained, as seen in a video posted by CNN. “And that’s when kind of my fear response turned into more of a fight response.”
Kauffman said he and the animal engaged in a “wrestling match” and fell from the side of the trail, where he was able to clasp down the cougar’s hind legs to keep it from moving. With his right arm still in the animal’s jaws, Kauffman grabbed a rock with his free hand.
“I tried to give it a few bashes in the back of the head,” he said, “but unfortunately I kind of had a tough time swinging [the rock] with my arm still locked into the cat’s jaws.”
Worried that other lions could show up at any moment, and with little to no options left, Kauffman moved into position to suffocate the animal.
“I was able to shift my weight and get a foot on its neck,” he explained. “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.”
After he removed his bloodied arm from the jaws of the dead animal, Kauffman ran three miles out of the park, where another visitor spotted him and gave him a lift to a nearby 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,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife manager Mark Leslie said during the conference. “These animals are ambush predators, and are trained to take quick and lethal action whenever possible.”
In the initial report of the attack, Colorado Parks and Wildlife said that mountain lion attacks are rare, with “fewer than 20 fatalities in North America in more than 100 years.” In three decades, the state has only seen 16 injuries and three fatalities as a result of cougar attacks.
If you do come face-to-face with one of the animals, you must do everything you can to survive, the agency said in their statement. This includes staying calm, slowly walking away without ever turning your back and trying to make yourself appear larger by raising your hands above your head. If a cougar does target you, they suggest fighting it off with rocks, sticks or your bare hands.
He added: “For the most part I don’t feel any residual trauma from it. And I tend to like to move forward. That’s kind of my personality.”