When a mountain lion attacked a fellow camper in their group, 10 whitewater rafters used their paddles to fight off the animal. The incident took place on a remote stretch of the Salt River two hours east of Phoenix, Arizona, on March 16. The victim, a 64-year old New Mexico man, sustained non-life-threatening injuries in the attack, according to a news release.
JC Castaneda, a program manager with Gila County Animal Care & Control, said the mountain lion attacked the man 21 miles downstream from the Salt River bridge on the north side of the Salt River. According to Castaneda, the injured rafter “is still very sore” from the attack but is recovering well.
Ten other rafters attempted to fend the lion off as it attacked the victim, the news release stated. When the aggressive cougar finally relented, the rafters retreated to the safety of their rafts.
After the incident, Gila County Animal Care & Control Officers, San Carlos Game and Fish personnel, White Mountain Apache Tribe officials, and Arizona Game and Fish rangers responded, increasing surveillance in the area. The White Mountain Apache Tribe called on the United States Department of Agriculture to dispatch a group of lion hunters with hounds who followed the cougar’s tracks from the location of the attack. As of Monday, March 20, the search was still underway. Castaneda warned that the lion’s unusually bold behavior might be a sign of rabies.
There are an estimated 2,000 to 2,700 mountain lions in Arizona—mostly in mountainous or hilly terrain. Hunting for the big cats is permitted between August 19 and May 31. The United States Forest Service urges caution when recreating in lion country. “If a lion becomes aggressive, wave your arms and speak loudly in a firm voice,” the agency states on its website. “If attacked, remain standing to protect your head and neck. Fight back.”