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Women engage in ‘hand-to-hand combat’ with cougar after it attacks friend

A group of mountain bikers used their bare hands to wrestle and pin down a cougar and save their fellow cyclist, who was left with neck and face injuries after she was attacked by the animal.

The incident occurred on 17 February while Keri Bergere was out cycling with four others on a trail northeast of Fall City in Washington.

Ms Bergere told local outlet King5 she was out on a ride with her friends Annie Bilotta and Tisch Williams, who she has been cycling with for at least five years.

The trio, who are competitive cyclists, were out riding with two others and were 19 miles into their outing when they were suddenly ambushed by two cougars.

"The cougars ran out from the brush on the right side of the road and they kind of ran between the two groups of us and one went up into the woods and the other one changed his mind and decided to tackle Keri," Ms Bilotta recalled.

The cougar dragged Ms Bergere off her bike in a matter of seconds.

"I just remember getting tackled from this side and ending up at the other side of the road pinned to the ground and hearing all the ladies rallying and fighting for my life," Ms Bergere said.

Ms Bilotta told King5 she immediately went to try and choke the cougar, "which was like trying to choke a rock.”

Keri Bergere said that she thinks she would be dead if it were not for the actions of her friends (King 5 Seattle)
Keri Bergere said that she thinks she would be dead if it were not for the actions of her friends (King 5 Seattle)

While Ms Bilotta and the women were engaging in “hand-to-hand combat” with the animal, Ms Bergere said she was aware of what was going on every second, and even did some of her own poking and prodding, aiming at the cougar’s eyes, nose and mouth with her hand.

After a very long 15 minutes, the women, who had also resorted to using sticks and rocks, were able to get the animal off their friend after a small moment of release and pin it down with a bike until help arrived.

A wildlife officer arrived at the scene and killed the cougar, the King County Sheriff’s Office said to CNN.

"I know for a fact I would be dead if they didn’t come back in, I would just be gone. That cougar had me, and there’s no doubt in my mind," Ms Bergere said.

WDFW Police Sergeant Carlo Pace told KOMO that the women “100 per cent saved their friend’s life.”

"They were able to pin down a good-sized lion with its claws and teeth and everything else under a mountain bike until we arrived," he said.

As a result of the cougar attacking Ms Bergere, she sustained neck and face injuries, and permanent nerve damage and spent five days in hospital, but is still recovering from the frightening incident.

An officer shot the cougar, Becky Elder, a spokesperson with the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Police, told the outlet.

The cyclist friends recall how they sprang into action trying to tear the cougar off their friend (King 5 Seattle)
The cyclist friends recall how they sprang into action trying to tear the cougar off their friend (King 5 Seattle)

“The public’s safety is our priority generally during a human-wildlife incident, we lethally remove the animal involved,” Ms Elder said.

WDFW police could not find the other cougar after an exhaustive search with the aid of hounds, they said in their statement.

The wildlife authorities removed a young male 75-pound cougar as they arrived at the scene and are submitting the animal for examination at the Washington State University lab.

The exam should establish more information on its age. It will be tested for disease.

Despite the terrifying incident, Ms Elder said cougar attacks on humans are “extremely rare”.

“In Washington state, there have been two fatal cougar attacks and approximately 20 other recorded encounters that resulted in human injury in the last 100 years,” she told CNN.

As of 2022, there are around 3,600 cougars in Washington state, the WDFW said on its website.

It advises that on the rare occasion people confront a cougar, you should pick up small children, do not run and face the animal. Talk to it firmly while slowly backing away, try to appear larger than the cougar and shout, wave your arms, and throw things at it if it shows signs of aggression.

If the cougar attacks, fight back with any object or even bare hands. If you are aggressive enough, the cougar will flee, the wildlife authority said.