New Details Emerge in Gruesome Lion Attack on Cyclists

New Details Emerge in Gruesome Lion Attack on Cyclists

New details and images have emerged about a recent cougar attack in Washington State involving five cyclists who fought off the cat with a rock and a Leatherman and then used a mountain bike to pin it down. All survived, but one of the cyclists suffered a serious bite wound to her jaw.

The five women were riding on a popular biking trail near North Bend east of Seattle on February 17, 2023. Three were in front while the other two rode about 200 feet behind, according to the son-in-law of one of the cyclists, who asked to remain anonymous.

“Two cougars walked behind the group of three, and at the last second, one of the cougars decided to turn and jump on the lady who was at the rear of that group,” he told MeatEater. “Everyone freaked out and froze up, but my mother-in-law pointed at one of her friends and said, ‘I need you to call 9-11. We need an ambulance and somebody with a gun.’”

The cat used its teeth to latch onto the face of Keri McCorkle, 60, and strafe the woman’s body with the claws on its back paws. The other four women tried to bash the lion’s face with a large rock (pictured in the image above), stab it with a stick, and cut its neck with a Leatherman multitool.

It took the women 15 minutes to convince the cat to release McCorkle’s jaw. McCorkle tried to shove her fingers in its eye and nose, but they were only able to get it off when it tried to reposition its bite.

When it finally let go, they were afraid it would turn around and attack again. So, they used one of the bikes to pin the cat to the ground while three of the women stood on top of it.

“The people on scene took immediate action to render aid, and one of our officers was able to arrive within minutes to continue medical aid and coordinate transport. We may have had a very different outcome without their heroic efforts,” said Lieutenant Erik Olson of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

McCorkle 1 Keri McCorkle in the hospital. (Photo: Keri's Ride to Recovery GoFundMe)

A spokesperson for the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Police said King County dispatch received a 911 call at 12:52 pm, and a fish and wildlife officer was on the scene at 1:05 pm.

“It is rather remarkable, and we are very thankful, an officer was in that exact remote area patrolling the timberland for illegal activity and could respond so quickly,” the spokesperson told MeatEater. “In addition, our officer who first responded is also one of our first aid/CPR instructors and is a wilderness first responder, highly trained to provide medical aid in remote locations. Thankfully, the folks on the ground took immediate action to help the victim which is nothing short of heroic.”

The cat was eventually shot and killed by a responding wildlife officer.

Lion Attack The cat after being shot by a wildlife officer.

The offending lion was a young, 75-pound male, according to the WDFW. The cyclists say the other cat was about the same size, but WDFW Police were unable to locate it even after calling in a hound handler to look for it.

All of the cyclists have so far declined to speak to the media, but McCorkle’s daughters have set up a GoFundMe to help with their mother’s recovery.

Why Would a Cougar Attack a Cyclist?

Mountain lion attacks almost always make the news, but they are extremely rare. Cougars are solitary and elusive, and many hunters spend years in the woods without spotting one. To get a handle on what could have triggered an attack, we reached out to Bart George, a mountain lion researcher and the wildlife program manager for Kalispel Tribe Natural Resources Department in Washington State.

“That’s definitely strange cougar behavior,” he said. “Biking down the trail may have triggered a predator response. Whether or not it realized what it was doing, we can only speculate.”

He estimates that based on the weight of the lion, the cat was likely less than two years old. “My guess is that it had never had a negative interaction with a human, or it had interactions with people that never led to any kind of negative or aversive conditioning,” he said.

McCorkle and the other cyclists say both cats were juveniles, but George thinks the other cat was likely the mother. A 90-pound female would look similar to a 75-pound male, and he doesn’t think she would have felt compelled to protect her cub once the chaotic fight began.

While attacking a human is unusual for a mountain lion, George said that the cat’s unwillingness to release McCorkle is textbook cat behavior.

“Once they make up their mind to kill something, it’s really hard to change it. They really fight for it,” he said.

McCorkle 2 An image posted to McCorkle's GoFundMe showing her progress over the last few weeks.

McCorkle was sent to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where she underwent surgery on her jaw. She went home five days after the incident, and is recovering, according to her daughters.

“It will be a lifelong battle and a long road ahead to recovery,” they say on McCorkle’s GoFundMe. “The talented surgeons at Harborview did such an insanely incredible job on her. She has been resting lots, going to appointments, and enjoying her short visits with friends and family.”

This isn’t the only Washington State incident in which a mountain lion attacked multiple cyclists. In 2018, a cyclist died after a mountain lion attacked him and his riding partner just south of where this most recent incident occurred. The pair initially fought off the lion using their bicycles, but the cat came back and attacked them again as they let their guard down.

McCorkle's GoFundMe has been published here.

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