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Travis Kauffman was running on a trail near Fort Collins, Colorado on Feb. 4, when he heard rustling in the woods behind him. As he turned his head to look, he realized it wasn’t a “small woodland creature” as he’d assumed, but a juvenile mountain lion lunging at him from about 10 feet away, he said in a video interview with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He managed to wrestle the animal to the ground and suffocate it, all while the cat had its jaws clamped around his wrist. And, of course, the story went viral.
Kauffman’s identity was initially kept from the media, but he came forward to tell his survival story at a press conference on Feb. 14. In the pre-recorded video interview, the avid runner calmly recounted the incident—and it could’ve gone very differently.
As soon as Kauffman realized that the disturbance in the leaves was a young mountain lion, he threw his hands up to defend himself. The cat then latched onto his wrist and started clawing his face and legs. They tumbled off the trail and down the slope before he managed to get on top of the lion. His arm still in its mouth, Kauffman worried more about its back claws than its teeth, and the fact that he has a cat of his own at home helped him strategize in a surprising way.
“Once you get a cat on its back, its back legs go crazy—that little rabbit thrash,” he said in the video. To avoid getting torn apart by the animal’s back legs, he used his left knee to pin them down, then tried to stab it in the throat with sticks. When that didn’t work, he tried to hit it on the head with a big rock. Finally, he was able to get his right leg close to his wrist and onto the animal’s neck. Eventually, the mountain lion suffocated. He estimated that the ordeal lasted around 10 minutes.
After the attack, he ran back toward the start of the trail in what he described as a “fear high,” noticing more mountain lion tracks in the snow along the way. He had to run three miles with another trail runner and a couple helping him along the way. One of them gave him a ride to the hospital, where he got cleaned up and needed seven stitches on his cheek, six along the bridge of his nose, and three on his wrist, where the 40-pound cat had latched on. Fortunately, he made it out with minimal other injuries, mostly puncture wounds that didn’t require stitches.
Kauffman successfully defended himself from what could’ve been a deadly attack, but he still feels it’s unfortunate that he had to kill the animal to do so. And despite the incident, he’s not hesitant to get back on the trails. He credits not wearing earbuds with his quick reaction to the attack, and he advises other trail runners, hikers, and mountain bikers to do the same. When asked at the press conference if he’d write a survival book or guide, he joked that it would probably just be a pamphlet, because it’s not very long.
“Be aware that you are sharing that space with wildlife,” he said in the video. “To fully appreciate the sights and sounds of nature, go without earbuds. And if you can, go with a buddy, which I will be doing going forward.”
Watch the full Colorado Parks and Wildlife interview below to hear the story in Kauffman’s own words.