Two mountain bikers were attacked by a mountain lion and one was killed in Washington state on Saturday, despite doing nearly everything right during the confrontation.
But the man who was killed made a tragic mistake when the cougar returned to attack them again: He ran, according to The Washington Post.
"You want to stand your ground and fight," said Peter Tira, a public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. "You never want to run from a mountain lion because that's what their prey do, and when you run you look like a prey animal."
Tira added that he's not sure whether standing and fighting would have changed the tragic outcome in Washington, but it's the best thing anyone can do when faced with a puma.
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"The fatal mistake, it appears, is running," Tira said. "That triggers an attack response in an animal that's hardwired to chase down prey."
It's currently unclear just why the mountain lion returned to attack the two Washington cyclists. The animal, which officials called "emaciated," was shot and killed, and its carcass sent to a veterinary lab at Washington State University, where a veterinarian will conduct a brain necropsy to determine what may have been wrong with it.
"They did everything they were supposed to do," King County sheriff's Sgt. Ryan Abbott told The Associated Press of the cyclists. "But something was wrong with this cougar."
Mountain lion attacks are incredibly rare — this was only the second cougar-related death in Washington in 94 years — and Tira said that in California, attacks appear to be pretty spread out over the years.
There have been 15 verified mountain lion attacks in California since 1986, and of those, just three were fatal, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife data.
The last nonfatal mountain lion attack in California was in 2014, in Cupertino. The last fatal mountain lion attack was in Orange County in 2004.
"It doesn't make a victim feel better, but for all the people we have in California and all the people outdoors, mountain lions are outstanding at avoiding us," Tira said.
Tira added that, if you're planning to hike or do other activities in a mountain lion's territory, it's best to be smart and aware of your surroundings. Mountain lions are active at dawn, dusk and nighttime, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends avoiding hiking or jogging during that time.
Officials also recommend that people never hike, bike or jog alone, and to keep small children close. They also say to never approach a mountain lion. If you see a mountain lion, Tira recommends reporting the sighting to authorities.
If you encounter a mountain lion, don't run. Face the animal, make noise, throw rocks and try to look bigger by waving your arms. Pick up dogs and children. If the mountain lion attacks, call 911 immediately.
"Let that mountain lion know you are not a prey animal, it needs to move on, and in almost all cases it does," Tira said.
"There's nothing unusual or particularly worrisome about it (mountain lion sightings), it's part of the California landscape," Tira said. "But you want to be aware and have some idea of what to do and what not to do."
This weekend's attack in Washington happened when S.J. Brooks, 32, and Isaac Sederbaum, 31, were mountain biking near North Bend, about 30 miles from Seattle. According to The Washington Post, the two realized they were being followed by the cougar and made loud noises to initially chase it away.
But the mountain lion returned — and pounced on Sederbaum. When Brooks got off his bike and ran away, the cat took chase, according to The Washington Post.
Brooks was "brutally mauled," Capt. Alan Myers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told The Washington Post.
Sederbaum, though injured, managed to ride off on his bike and find help. He was listed in satisfactory condition, according to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.