Mountain Lion Killed by Colorado Runner With Bare Hands Was a 'Kitten' Three to Four Months Old

Last month, Colorado trail runner Travis Kauffman killed a mountain lion with his bare hands after being attacked, in an incident that garnered widespread media attention.

Now, veterinarians from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CWS) in Fort Collins have revealed the results of a necropsy, concluding that the animal in question was a juvenile or "kitten" likely aged between three and four months, The Coloradoan reported.

The vets estimated that the feline—which was probably male—would have weighed between 35 to 40 pounds when alive. However, the current weight of the body was around 24 pounds due to the fact it had been heavily scavenged.

The report suggests that the scavenging took place at or around the time of death, likely by other mountain lions that were its siblings—as evidenced by teeth marks on the bones.

Officials said they found abundant dried blood between the animal's paw pads, as well as around its nose and mouth. It also had abrasions and bruising on the top of its head, nose and above the right eye. Meanwhile, its larynx and trachea showed signs of significant injury.

Despite these injuries and the scavenging, vets concluded that the animal was healthy and did not have any diseases when it died.

Kauffman, 31, was attacked by the lion on February 4 while running in Horsetooth Mountain Park.

"I heard some pine needles ruffle behind me and luckily I was able to actually turn my head and it was a mountain lion," Kauffman told CWS. "One of my worst fears was confirmed and my heart sank into my stomach."

"It kept approaching and lunged at me, so I threw my arms up and it latched onto my wrist, so I was kinda protecting my face," he said. "Then It started clawing along my face and then my legs and I was just kinda screaming the whole time."

Kauffman—who stands at five-feet-10 and weighs 150 pounds—then tried to throw the animal off him and a wrestling match ensued. Eventually, the 31-year-old managed to hit the lion on the head with a rock before stepping on its throat and killing it.

While the animal was described as a kitten, this simply means that it was not fully mature. Officials said the cat still posed a danger to Kauffman, so he was justified in defending himself.

"The difference in danger to a human between a young mountain lion versus a subadult or adult is considerable when you look at their abilities and weight," Lauren Truitt from CWS told Newsweek. "Biologically, young mountain lions are termed 'kittens' until they are approximately a year old. However, being young does not equate to not being dangerous, as seen by the injuries to the trail runner."

"In this instance, we are fortunate that the lion was young, or we would likely be discussing a much different, and frankly much worse, outcome for the runner involved," she said. "It is very likely that the runner may not have survived an attack by an adult lion."

Adult male mountain lions typically measure between 6 and 8 feet in length and normally weigh anywhere from 100 to 180 pounds, according to mountainlion.org. They tend to avoid humans, although attacks do happen on very rare occasions.

"Mountain lions are typically elusive animals that primarily hunt between dusk and dawn," Truitt said. "It is far more likely that anyone recreating in mountain lion territory has been seen by a mountain lion, but they have never seen one."

However, even though mountain lion attacks are rare, they are becoming more frequent as humans increasingly encroach on their territory. The U.S. Forest Service offers the following guidelines for staying safe in mountain lion country, as well as advice over what to do in the event of an encounter:

  • "Do not hike alone. Go in groups, with adults supervising children."
  • "Avoid dawn and dusk excursions."
  • "Keep children close to you. Animals seem especially drawn to children."
  • "Pick up small children. The mountain lion will see small children as easier prey."
  • "Do not approach a lion. Most mountain lions will try to avoid confrontation, so give them a way to escape."
  • "Do not run from a lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase."
  • "Do not crouch down or bend over. A human standing does not resemble a mountain lion's natural prey."
  • "Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice."
  • "Fight back if attacked. Mountain lions usually try to bite the head or neck; try to remain standing and face the attacking animal."

This article was updated to include comments from Lauren Truitt.

mountain lion
Travis Kauffman was attacked by a mountain lion on February 4. iStock
Mountain Lion Killed by Colorado Runner With Bare Hands Was a 'Kitten' Three to Four Months Old | U.S.