EUREKA, CA—A local mountain lion came face-to-face with a group of hikers and made it out alive, sources reported Monday. Wildlife officials are crediting the courageous cougar's quick thinking, catlike reflexes, and 150 pounds of coiled muscle with successfully fending off the human foot travelers.
The mountain lion was reportedly enjoying a quiet afternoon walk around Redwood National Park, on the same path it had taken almost every single day for the past three years, when it heard a rustling sound emanating from the underbrush. Upon investigation, the large feline noticed that a pack of hikers—one adult male, two young children, and an adult female that it instantly recognized as the mother—had crossed into territory that the cat had clearly marked as its own via tree scrapings and urine.
Outnumbered four to one, the cougar, fearing for its life, somehow managed to stay calm. It remained perfectly still in a crouched position and stared directly at the hikers, in the hopes that they would simply pass by. The hikers, however, were undeterred. They began shrieking loudly, clapping their hands, and throwing sticks and rocks at the animal in an apparent attempt to injure it.
"Nothing can prepare a mountain lion for an encounter with four hikers," said park ranger Kenneth Meiggs, noting that it is unusual to find hikers in that particular area of the woods. "In order to defend itself, the cougar had to rely on pure instinct alone."
Armed with nothing more than four-inch claws, razor-sharp teeth, and a 5.4-meter vertical leap, the mountain lion lunged at the adult male hiker. In a defensive measure, it pinned the hiker to the ground, thus disabling the man's primary means of attack. After a brief struggle, the animal was eventually able to lock onto the hiker's skull with its jaw.
"Repeated biting of the skull and face is the textbook way to fend off a human attack," said Mike Kasperski, biologist and author of the book Hikers: Shadows In The Forest.
The mother, however, became increasingly aggressive due to the presence of her young. She reportedly ran toward the mountain lion with a four-inch-wide log and began striking it upon the head. Not knowing what else to do, the feline tore a foot-wide hole in the hiker's stomach, but the enraged female continued to fight, poking the feline in the eye with her finger. The cougar, in a last-ditch effort for survival, whipped its claws across the woman's throat, killing her instantly.
Remarkably, this brave mountain lion is only 4 and a half years old.
"It's amazing what some mountain lions are capable of when faced with the most dire of circumstances," Meiggs said. "To think that those hikers were a mere 20 yards away, and the lion walked away unscathed…. Wow."
The two younger hikers received small lacerations on their legs and chest, while the adult male is being treated for massive head trauma and internal bleeding. The mother, identified as Cyndi Thalls, 38, of Pacoima, CA, was pronounced dead at the scene.
"I think it's safe to say those hikers will think twice before getting into another tussle with this feisty little fellow," Meiggs added with a chuckle.
Following the incident, the mountain lion retreated into the woods, escaping with nothing more than a few minor scratches and a blood-covered snout. At press time, it is resting comfortably on a large rock.