Evan Ray Nilsen, 70, was, by his words, ambushed by a mountain lion in Utah’s Spanish Fork Canyon. He lives to tell the tale.
“A mountain lion hit me right on the side, knocked me down the hill,” Nilsen tells local KUTV. “I kind of hunched up or folded up, and it come down around behind me.”
He took quite a tumble with the cougar down a ravine in the Diamond Fork area. As the big cat attacked, the 70-year-old hiker immediately entered fight or flight, and fight it was.
“I hit it with a rock – just with my hand with a rock – and it took off,” he recalls.
It’s unclear what spurred the ambush, which is a hunting tactic mountain lions employ on prey. Typically, when cougars lash out at humans, it is a mother protecting young nearby. That, or as was the case in Arizona earlier this year, the lion may be rabid. Regardless, Nilsen was able to drive himself out of the canyon then to the hospital for wound treatment.
“I’m feeling all right. I’m feeling okay… Just shock. Let me tell you, it was a shock and a half,” he told the outlet with bandages on his arms. Each had been cut by the mountain lion’s claws, which carry nasty bacteria. Nilsen would also receive a rabies shot due to the nature of the attack.
The hospital would also diagnose whiplash from the sheer force of the lion’s assault.
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources on the hunt for ‘aggressive’ mountain lion
“Typically, we are able to have hounds locate a mountain lion if something has happened recently in an area,” Scott Root, conservation manager with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, tells KUTV. The dept.’s extensive search for the lion has, so far, come up dry.
“We do have mountain lions that may be lower in elevation. With all this deep snow, we had all the big game down lower, and so that probably brought a few lions down lower too because of the deep snow,” Root adds. “But now they should start working their way right back up the mountain because of the green-up season and the snow’s melting off.”
As Root cites, direct cougar-human attacks like this remain “very rare.” But as lion populations continue to increase due to successful (and much-needed) conservation efforts, cougar conflicts are rising. In kind, being wildlife aware is more important than ever.
As for Mr. Nilsen, the 70-year-old is just happy it ended the way it did. “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, I guess,” he laments.
Truly, however, he has himself to thank for surviving the encounter.