Watch Mountain Lion Take Down Elk on Colorado Highway

A mountain lion has been filmed taking down an elk on a Colorado highway in a brutal encounter lasting 15 minutes.

The footage was posted to Instagram by Hoyt Raffay and later reposted by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation to Facebook, where it has been viewed over 318,000 times.

It showed a mountain lion grappling with an elk in the middle of a tarmacked road at night. The pair were illuminated by the headlamps of the car, the occupants of which captured the footage.

Mountain lion sightings are rare, with the animals typically avoiding people and human infrastructure. There are thought to be between 20,000 to 30,000 of the big cats in the western United States.

Footage of the animals hunting is also scarce.

Hunting news website Field and Stream said the driver of the vehicle was 18-year-old Sophia Benjamin—a friend of Raffay. She was driving along a highway in Routt County with Tanner Cole-Wheeler, 15, when they spotted the mountain lion and elk in a life and death struggle. Benjamin pulled over and Tanner filmed the encounter.

Field and Stream said that the group watched the battle unfold for around 15 minutes until they presumed the elk was dead. The footage showed the mountain lion upside down, its jaws locked onto the elk's neck and its paws reaching up to slash at the animal. The elk stumbles across the road as it attempts to break free.

Elk are one of the primary prey targets for mountain lions in Western U.S. The predators also eat smaller mammals such as coyotes, raccoons and rodents.

A study recently published in Mammal Review showed how vital mountain lions are to ecosystems across the Americas. It found they are key ecological "brokers" believed to interact with more species of plant and animal life than any other in the western hemisphere, helping to balance and regulate ecosystems in the Americas.

The CPW estimates there are between 3,000 to 7,000 mountain lions in the state. Increased sightings of the predators in Colorado have been attributed to a number of factors, including the increased human habitation in typical mountain lion habitats, increased deer and elk prey for the animals and a greater awareness about the presence of mountain lions generally.

"One thing that has changed recently is that people are more aware of the mountain lions that have always been around," conservation advocate Josh Rosenau, of the Mountain Lion Foundation told Newsweek previously.

"Thanks to cell phones and especially things like doorbell cameras, trail cameras, and other motion-activated cameras, we can spot these elusive creatures even as they do their best to avoid people. Sometimes, folks see those camera shots and worry. But mountain lions were always traveling through these areas, they just had an easier time hiding!"

Stock image of mountain lion hunting.
Stock image of mountain lion hunting. The animals are key ecological "brokers" that help balance ecosystems across the Americas. Kara Capaldo/Getty Images