On February 4, Travis Kauffman was finishing a run on Towers trail outside Fort Collins when he heard pine needles rustle behind him. Usually when he hears that sort of noise on a trail run, it comes from a rabbit or some other small animal. But this was no bunny.
"I turned around and was pretty bummed out to see a mountain lion chasing after me," Kauffman said during a press conference in Fort Collins today, February 14.
He started yelling to scare the animal away, but that didn't work. When the mountain lion lunged at Kauffman, he blocked his face with his hands. The mountain lion began clawing at him and eventually locked its jaw around his right wrist.
"That's when my fear response turned more into my fight response," Kauffman said.
They tumbled down part of the trail together in what Kauffman described as a "wrestling match."
He knew that the mountain lion's back legs could cause serious damage after learning as much the hard way from Obie, the cat that he and his girlfriend have at home. So Kauffman pinned the cat's back legs down with his left knee to prevent it from scratching him further.
"As a pretty new cat owner, I realized that once you get a cat on its back, it goes crazy," he said.
Kauffman then reached with his free hand for nearby sticks to try to stab the mountain lion. But all the sticks he grabbed were rotten, rendering them useless against the wild animal. Kauffman found a rock and bashed the mountain lion twice on the head. That didn't work, either, and the mountain lion kept its jaw around his wrist.
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"There was a point where I was concerned I wasn’t gonna make it out of it," Kauffman said, adding that he worried that another mountain lion would join in on the fight. "Luckily, that wasn't the case."
Eventually, Kauffman was able to shift his weight and get his right foot on the mountain lion's neck. The 5'10," 150-pound environmental consultant held his foot there for what seemed like three minutes, finally suffocating the mountain lion. Kauffman was then able to get his wrist from the dead cat's mouth.
Bloodied and battered, with puncture wounds and cuts all over his body, Kauffman left the dead mountain lion on the trail and started running. After about two miles, he came across another runner who was headed in the opposite direction. The two descended the trail together and ran into a couple. The woman gave Kauffman a ride to the closest emergency room, while the first man Kauffman had run into and the woman's partner picked up Kauffman's truck.
Kauffman got nineteen stitches on his cheeks, six on the bridge of his nose and three on his wrist. He also had several puncture wounds from teeth and claws.
Kauffman's girlfriend, Annie Bierbouer, raced to the hospital from work as soon as she heard what happened. "Can I kiss him? Can I kiss him?," Bierbouer recalled asking the nurse.
"I was just thankful that he had his eyes and fingers and all his parts," she said at the press conference.
Moments before meeting the national news media, Travis Kauffman and Annie Bierbouer embrace at our office.— CO Parks & Wildlife (@COParksWildlife) February 14, 2019
Our live stream of the press conference will begin at 1:15 p.m. MT @CPW_NE pic.twitter.com/s6pReZrMCa
Kauffman reflected on all the attention he's gotten after his near-death experience. "It’s kinda weird feeling famous for an unearned reason," he said. "I will never be able to live up to the reputation."
Kauffman joked that he was no Chuck Norris: "Chuck woulda come out without a scratch. You know him. And he’d probably have the lion slung over his shoulder."
Kauffman, who has no martial arts or wrestling experience but is an avid outdoor sportsman, lucked out that the mountain lion wasn't fully grown. Colorado Parks and Wildlife staffers estimate that the mountain lion was in the fifty-pound range, whereas a full-grown male mountain lion can weigh up to 150 pounds.
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"We all feel extremely lucky that this attack was by a young mountain lion," said Mark Leslie, northeast region manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, at the press conference. Mountain lions rarely attack humans, and there have been less than a dozen fatalities from mountain lion attacks in the last 100 years in America.
Kauffman moved to Fort Collins from Arkansas five years ago for the state's outdoor-recreation opportunities, which he's still participating in even though he barely escaped death on a running trail. He even recently revisited the scene of his wildlife encounter with Colorado Parks and Wildlife staffers.
Kauffman said he won't be writing a survival book anytime soon, since he doesn't have much to say. "Maybe a pamphlet," he said, joking. But he did have some advice for runners.
"Don’t run with headphones in [when you're in] some of those really more remote areas," he said, adding that he's no longer likely to go on any long-distance runs alone. "Just kind of keep all your senses open and take in all that’s happening."