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How a Washington state woman narrowly avoided a mountain lion attack

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Mountain lions, also known as cougars - they only rarely go after humans. But a woman in western Washington state was recently biking with friends near a forested area when a mountain lion attacked. Angela King with member station KUOW has their survival story.

ANGELA KING, BYLINE: As a team of competitive cyclists in their 50s and 60s, Annie, Erica, Aune, Tisch and Keri have biked thousands of miles across Washington state. But it was an encounter they had on a gravel trail northeast of Seattle that would uniquely test their strength and stamina.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANNIE BILOTTA: Right now we have a bicycle on top of the cougar that we are holding him down with, but he is fighting back.

KING: That was Annie Billotta as she called 911 to tell dispatchers a young cougar had attacked her friend, Keri Bergere. She says two cougars initially crossed their path. One kept going, but the other jumped on Bergere and knocked her right off of her bike.

KERI BERGERE: And he tackled me off my bike. I ended up in the ditch on the other side of the road, pinned to the ground, and it was crushing my face. I could feel - I thought my teeth were coming loose and I was going to swallow my teeth. I could feel the bones crushing.

KING: But Bergere could also hear her friends rushing to her rescue, grabbing anything they could find to fight off this determined cougar.

BERGERE: You know, I opened my eyes, and I see Annie right in front of me.

BILOTTA: Well, at first, I tried to choke it, and that was like choking a rock. It did absolutely nothing.

BERGERE: So Billotta had another idea.

BILOTTA: I do remember trying to put my hand into its mouth to try to pry its jaw off of Keri, but I felt it shifting its teeth like it wanted to try to bite me, too. And so I said, no, you're not going to get the both of us.

KING: As the other women are frantically hitting this cougar with large sticks, Erica Wolf is trying to call 911 but can't get cellphone reception - all of this as they were worried the other cougar could return at any moment. So one of them grabbed a huge, 25-pound rock and dropped it repeatedly on the cougar's head, which had now been mauling Bergere's face for 15 minutes. It still wouldn't let her go.

BERGERE: I just thought, you know, it was done, you know? But then - got another little surge, you know? And it's like, got to live to ride one more day, right?

KING: That's when the cougar finally let Bergere go. She was able to crawl away. Meanwhile, Tisch Williams grabbed one of their bikes and used it to pin down this wild animal that was now fighting for its life. After that, a couple of fellow bicyclists, who the women call their angels, appeared along the trail and helped keep the 75-pound juvenile male cougar pinned down. The entire struggle, from start to finish, lasted 45 minutes before a Fish and Wildlife agent arrived and shot the cougar. That was hard for Wolf to watch.

ERICA WOLF: You know, it broke my heart that this had to happen, but it was really down to our lives and Keri's or the cougar, and it was - we had no choice.

KING: Bergere spent five days in the hospital. Her face was severely mauled. She suffered a broken jaw and permanent nerve damage. As for when she'll ride again, Bergere says she will eventually with her four friends.

BERGERE: We're all going to carry a weapon, a knife, you know, because you can't kill a cougar with sticks and stones. We needed something.

WOLF: Well, we could, Keri, but...

BERGERE: Well, you guys can. But...

WOLF: (Laughter).

BERGERE: I am alive. I'm grateful and happy to be here and grateful to my ladies that are now my family.

KING: Family that did all it could to save one of its own. For NPR News, I'm Angela King in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAZMINE SULLIVAN SONG, "LIONS, TIGERS AND BEARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Angela King
Angela King is an Emmy-award winning journalist who’s been a part of the northwest news scene since the early 1990s. A proud University of Washington alumna, with degrees in Broadcast Journalism and American Ethnic Studies, she started her career as a news writer in Seattle, before becoming a reporter and anchor in Seattle, Portland and Albuquerque.
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