File photo via the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. 

A runner killed an attacking mountain lion with his bare hands about 3 p.m. Monday on a trail in Horsetooth Mountain Open Space near Fort Collins, Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported.

The man was running on West Ridge Trail when he heard a noise, turned, and the young cat attacked, biting his face. He fought the cougar, hitting it with a rock and ultimately strangling it. Then he hiked to safety, CPW spokeswoman Rebecca Ferrell said.

The runner, who is in his 30s but hadn’t been publicly identified, was released Tuesday from a hospital where he had driven with facial cuts, wrist injuries and scratches and puncture wounds to his arms, legs and back.

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“The runner did everything 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,” said Mark Leslie, CPW Northeast Region manager.

The man did everything right, locking eyes with the cat, yelling at it and waving his arms over his head to look bigger, Ferrell said at a news conference.

When it pounced anyway, he blocked the cat with his forearms. The animal bit his face and then his wrist and wouldn’t let go, she said. So he picked up a rock with his free hand and pounded its head. Still the cat persisted. Then he put it in a headlock and wrestled it, finally jumping on its back and — using his hands, arms and feet — choked the beast to death, Ferrell said.

“It’s an amazing story. Everyone is baffled and impressed,” she said. “He had no weapons, no knives or trekking poles with him.”

Wildlife officials found the dead lion in the stretch of trail described by the runner and will deliver its body to the agency’s animal health lab for a necropsy. It tested negative for rabies.

Over the past 100 years, only 20 people in North America have died from a cougar attack, the CPW said. But in Colorado, the cats have killed three people and injured 16 since 1990.

Last month, CPW trapped a mother mountain lion, her four grown cubs and another cougar near Glenwood Springs after residents reported aggressive behavior by the predators. Each lion weighed more than 80 pounds, officials said.

Also last month, members of a Nederland family yelled at and threatened a mountain lion that had attacked their dog, and it soon dropped the pet and left. The dog made a full recovery.

The last previous mountain lion attack on a person in Colorado was reported in June 2016 in Pitkin County.

Wild animals rarely make an appearance in broad daylight; they’re more commonly seen around sunrise and sunset. But exceptions occur.

“Most people will never see a lion in the wild, but they are there. If you live, work or play in mountain lion country, it is important to be alert,” CPW advised.

At the Denver Zoo, for example, a photograph posted outside the mountain lion exhibit showed a happy family on a Colorado trail. Only after the family had the photograph developed did they see a mountain lion had been standing in yellow grasses beside them.

The Denver Post and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Ellie is a general assignment reporter. She's a proud Midwesterner, stationery hoarder and Earl Grey tea enthusiast. After interning at The Gazette in 2015, she joined the newspaper's staff in 2016.

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