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Group biking northeast of Fall City fights off attacking cougar, one person hospitalized

Map showing the 5-mile distance from the approximate locations of the 2018 attack and Saturday's attack.
Approximate locations of Saturday’s attack northeast of Fall City and the 2018 attack that killed SJ Brooks north of the North Fork Snoqualmie River.

A cougar attacked a group of five people biking on a private trail northeast of Fall City shortly after noon Saturday. The group fought the wild cat, eventually using a bicycle to pin down the young 75-pound male until help could arrive, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (“WDFW”).

“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,” said WDFW Lieutenant Erik Olson in a statement. “We may have had a very different outcome without their heroic efforts.”

A 60-year-old woman sustained injuries to her neck and face, but is in stable condition. WDFW spokesperson Becky Elder told The Seattle Times that the group “did everything right in fending off the cougar.” The terms cougar, mountain lion, puma, and panther all describe the same species of large wild cat.

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Cougar attacks are exceedingly rare, and Elder told the Times that there have only been two fatal cougar attacks on record in the state. But one of those deaths occurred in similar-sounding circumstances. Nearly six years ago, a cougar attacked and killed SJ Brooks while they were biking on rugged roads north of the Mount Si conservation area. Their riding partner Izzy Sederbaum was injured trying to fight the cat. Brooks was the Founder of Seattle’s chapter of Friends on Bikes, a group for women, trans, femme and non-binary people of color. They were a rising leader in creating a more inclusive bicycling culture, and their tragic death was made even more painful by all the national media attention due to the unusual circumstances.

The King County Sheriff’s Office described the location as a wilderness area along Tokul Creek about five miles north of the City of Snoqualmie, according to NPR. That vague description puts it more than five miles from where Brooks was killed in 2018. Both attacks occurred on rugged roads or trails near the border of mountain wilderness and human residential development.

Two attacks within 6 years is still a rare occurrence, but it is wise for people going biking on old logging roads and remote trails to review resources on what to do when you encounter wildlife. It is also worthwhile to take a wilderness first aid course, especially if you bike or hike in remote places often. Wilderness first aid is typically a beginner-level course, so no previous first aid training is required.

Below are some tips for cougar encounters from the WDFW:

Relatively few people will ever catch a glimpse of a cougar much less confront one. If you come face to face with a cougar, your actions can either help or hinder a quick retreat by the animal.

Here are some things to remember:

  • Stop, pick up small children immediately, and don’t run. Running and rapid movements may trigger an attack. Remember, at close range, a cougar’s instinct is to chase.
  • Face the cougar. Talk to it firmly while slowly backing away. Always leave the animal an escape route.
  • Try to appear larger than the cougar. Get above it (e.g., step up onto a rock or stump). If wearing a jacket, hold it open to further increase your apparent size. If you are in a group, stand shoulder-to-shoulder to appear intimidating.
  • Do not take your eyes off the cougar or turn your back. Do not crouch down or try to hide.
  • Never approach the cougar, especially if it is near a kill or with kittens, and never offer it food.
  • If the cougar does not flee, be more assertive. If it shows signs of aggression (crouches with ears back, teeth bared, hissing, tail twitching, and hind feet pumping in preparation to jump), shout, wave your arms and throw anything you have available (water bottle, book, backpack). The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.
  • If the cougar attacks, fight back. Be aggressive and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back using anything within reach, including sticks, rocks, shovels, backpacks, and clothing—even bare hands. If you are aggressive enough, a cougar will flee, realizing it has made a mistake. Pepper spray in the cougar’s face is also effective in the extreme unlikelihood of a close encounter with a cougar.

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