Isaac Sederbaum and Sonja Brooks did the right thing when they encountered a 100-pound male mountain lion in the woods near Snoqualmie, Washington, on Saturday morning. They got off their bikes, made lots of noise, and attempted to scare the big cat away. It wasn’t enough.
The mountain lion ran away, and when the pair got back on their bikes and started riding, the cat attacked Sederbaum from behind, got its jaws around his head, and started shaking. Brooks dropped their bike and started to run, and the lion let go of Sederbaum, chased them, and attacked.
“The first victim told us that the actual cougar’s mouth was around his head,” said Sgt. Ryan Abbott, spokesman for the King County Sheriff’s Office. “The cougar was trying to shake the victim from side to side.”
Sederbaum fled on his bike to find a cell phone signal and call for help. As he did, he could see the cat dragging Brooks into the woods.
Help came too late. When authorities arrive, Brooks, 32, was dead. They found them in what appeared to be the cat’s den, and the animal was atop the body, said Captain Alan Myers of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police.
A deputy shot at the cougar and the cat fled. It was eventually treed by tracking dogs and shot.
According to Seattle’s Q13 Fox affiliate, Brooks was a chapter leader for Seattle’s Friends on Bikes, which promotes diversity in cycling, focusing “primarily on women of color and trans and gender non-conforming people of color.”
Brook’s bio on Friends of Bikes says, “SJ was born in Kansas and has fond memories of crushing down the Shunga Trail as a kid. While living in Montreal, SJ started riding bikes as a means of transportation. Their first overnight bike camping trip was to Harold Parker State Forest from Boston. Now in Seattle, SJ has retired from working as a bike mechanic and is enjoying riding their bike to explore the Pacific Northwest.”
Mountain lion attacks are rare in the United States and fatalities even rarer. This is the first death in Washington State from an attack since 1924. In North America, there have only been 23 known fatal attacks in the last century.
The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife offers the following guidelines if you do encounter a mountain lion:
• 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.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife also keep a cougar incident tracking map:
Photo by King County Sheriff’s Office