With clear skies and temperatures in the mid-60s, April 27 was a perfect day for a hike in central Utah. Evan Ray Nielsen, 70, took advantage of the spring weather and trekked solo into the Diamond Fork area of Spanish Fork Canyon, near his hometown of Spanish Fork. At one point during his hike, a mountain lion attacked an unarmed Nielsen. He grabbed ahold of a rock and fought off the cougar, who had knocked him to the ground.
“[The] mountain lion hit me right on the side, knocked me down the hill,” Nielsen told KUTV. “I kind of hunched up or folded up, and it come down around behind me. And I hit it with a rock—just with my hand with a rock—and it took off.”
Nielsen was caught off guard by the surprise attack. He sustained injuries from the lion’s claws and got whiplash from being pounced on and flattened. After hiking back to his vehicle, which was parked at the trailhead, Nielsen drove himself to a nearby hospital. Doctors bandaged the wounds on his arms and gave him precautionary rabies and tetanus shots.
“I’m feeling okay,” Nielsen told reporters after the attack. “Just shock. Let me tell you, it was a shock and a half.”
Wildlife officials are still searching the area for the aggressive lion, according to Scott Root with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. Root said they’re using hounds to track the cougar and they plan to euthanize the animal.
“We do have mountain lions that may be lower in elevation. With all this deep snow, we had all the big game down here, so that probably brought a few lions down lower, too,” Root explained. “But now they should start working their way right back up the mountain because of the green-up season and the snow melting off.”
Root added that attacks by mountain lions on humans are “very rare,” and there are no records of a lion killing a human in the state within the last 100 years. The two most recent cougar attacks recorded in Utah took place in August and September of last year.
“Several factors may have contributed to this attack—a younger lion may not be as aware of humans,” Root said. “It could be [that] it was simply startled or defending a kill.”