Mountain lion strangled by runner was a hungry, orphaned kitten, Colorado officials say

The mountain lion that attacked and bit a Colorado trail runner’s face last month was a young kitten who was likely without its mother, a wildlife official said, according to NBC News.

That 3-to-4-month-old mountain lion was also “hungry, but not starving,” NBC reported.

“The lion lunged at the runner, biting his face and wrist,” Colorado wildlife officials wrote on Feb. 4, the same day as the attack.

In self-defense, the Horsetooth Mountain Open Space jogger fought back and killed the cougar without any weapons, McClatchy previously reported. The runner has since been identified by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as Travis Kauffman, the Fort Collins Coloradoan reported.

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife released the final necropsy report for the dead mountain lion last week, KDVR reported. The Colorado TV station published the necropsy report online.

In the report, a wildlife official wrote that the necropsy findings confirm Kauffman’s story — he killed the mountain lion by strangling the kitten and with blunt force trauma. The runner said he strangled the cat by stepping on its throat, the report says.

“Kauffman said he used a large rock and pummeled the lion in the back of the head,” KDVR reported. “He then choked the animal to death with his hands, arms and feet after it bit and clawed him in the face and on his body.”

The mountain lion carcass weighed 24 pounds at the time of the autopsy, but it was “not fully intact due to scavenging,” the report says. Part of its rib cage was missing, and other body parts and organ parts had been eaten.

Veterinarians believe the mountain lion weighed about 35 to 40 pounds when it pounced on Kauffman, the Coloradoan reported.

Jason Clay, a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told NBC that the strangled kitten was most likely eaten by its two orphaned siblings.

“We had no signs of an adult female being anywhere near the scene that day, or in the following days, which is one reason why we think these kittens were orphaned,” he said, according to NBC.

Bite marks in the carcass were from teeth about the same size as the cougar, the necropsy report published by KDVR says.

It’s “lion behavior” for lions to eat their siblings’ carcass, according to the Coloradoan.

Those two siblings — both hungry, but in good condition — have since been trapped by wildlife officials and taken to a rehabilitation facility, the newspaper reported. They won’t be released back into the wild “until the animals have a strong chance of survival.”

Mark Leslie, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northeast Region manager, said on the day of the attack that Kauffman did what he could to save his life.

“In the event of a lion attack you need to do anything in your power to fight back just as this gentleman did,” he said in the initial release.

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Kaitlyn Alanis is based out of Kansas and reports on news from across the Midwest region. She has been at The Wichita Eagle since 2017.