Travis Kauffman, 31, said the sound of snapping pine needles caused him to turn around and spot the approaching mountain lion

By Jason Duaine Hahn
February 15, 2019 02:47 PM

A Colorado runner who fought off and killed a mountain lion who ambushed him is speaking out about the attack that left him with multiple gashes to his face and arms.

Travis Kauffman laced up his running shoes on February 4 and headed out for a 12- to 15-mile jog through the wilderness of Horsetooth Mountain. But not long into his run, the 31-year-old heard the sound of pine needles crackling behind him, and turned around to come eye-to-eye with a juvenile mountain lion, he recalled in a press conference on Thursday.

“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.”

The lion — which weighed 35 to 40 pounds, a necropsy later revealed — quickly pounced on Kauffman and sunk its teeth into his arms.

“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.

Mountain lions are often referred to as pumas or cougars
| Credit: Francis Apesteguy/Getty

“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.”

Travis Kauffman

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.

“During the whole process I didn’t really make that many decisions. There was a lot of instinct,” Kauffman told KUNC. “And so there weren’t a lot of decisions to second-guess or a lot of critical moments that I had to rethink or go through and reprocess.

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.”