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Colorado Parks and Wildlife says a mountain lion attacked a man sitting in an in-ground hot tub with his wife on Saturday night. The agency had planned to kill about half of the mountain lions in the Upper Arkansas River Basin as part of a study on dwindling deer herds, but a federal judge's 2021 ruling ended that plan. (Provided by the National Park Service)

NATHROP — A man hot-tubbing in a backyard near Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort on Saturday night was clawed by a mountain lion that left four superficial scratches on his head and right ear, Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported.

The man cleaned his wounds and refused medical treatment when Parks and Wildlife arrived. 

He and his wife were lounging in the tub, set into the ground, when a lion grabbed the man’s skull. The two began screaming and splashing the lion with water and the victim’s wife found a flashlight and shined it on the animal. But neither the splashing nor the light scared the cat, which retreated only 20 feet away from the couple, watched them and then repositioned itself to a hill above them, where it crouched down and continued watching. 

Parks and Wildlife said two officers arrived shortly after a call from the owner of the property and began searching the surroundings. No tracks were found, as the ground was frozen. Area Wildlife Manager Sean Shepherd said the officers set a trap and “it’s likely the mountain lion saw the man’s head move in the darkness at ground level, but didn’t recognize the people in the hot tub. 

“The couple did the right thing by making noise and shining a light on the lion. Although this victim had only minor injuries, we take this incident seriously,” Shepherd said. “We have alerted neighbors and posted signs warning of lion activity. And we will continue to track the lion and lion activity.”

In an interview with The Sun, Shepherd said that when he and his fellow officers arrived on the scene, he saw two deer bedded down under the deck of the house near the hot tub, and that while they were placing the trap, 10 to 15 deer wandered past them at 20 to 30 feet away. 

“When prey is around, predators are around,” Shepherd said

Shepherd said the man and his wife “were there to see the stars” and “weren’t talking to one another. 

“The lion walked down a set of stairs that led right to where the man was sitting. I don’t know what a typical wildlife encounter is, but deer are in that area all the time. And it wasn’t the first time the man had stayed at that place. He said the last time he’d seen a bobcat, and the owner of the rental said he sees bobcats regularly.” 

Shepherd said there had been no recent complaints of mountain lion attacks or sightings of active kill sites or caches. Mountain lions cache deer and other kills by covering them with dirt from the forest floor and other natural debris. 

While the encounter on Saturday was “out of the blue,” Shepherd said, it wasn’t necessarily unexpected. “When there are deer all around, especially with mountain lions, we try to encourage folks to pay attention to what time of day it is. Mountain lions hunt very actively at dawn and dark. We believe this event happened sometime between 8:15 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.” 

Shepherd saw the victim two hours after the attack and said his forehead was obviously scratched but that “the wounds had clotted up.” 

The attack comes as people in the high country are on alert for lions following a string of attacks on dogs in and around Nederland. 

Over a seven-month period in 2022, 23 dogs either disappeared, were attacked or were killed by lions there, with the greatest number of reports occurring between Nov. 14 and Dec. 9. A lion that had been relocated to the Lyons area from Boulder and wearing tags was killed after attacking a dog on Dec. 27. The lion-dog activity stopped in the area thereafter.  

In 2019, 9News reported a mountain lion attacked a runner who fought it off with his bare hands near Fort Collins. The following August, a hunter used a pocket knife to stop an attack near Kremmling. About a week later, a cat bit an 8-year-old boy in the head in Bailey. 

Parks and Wildlife said officers decided tracking the lion with hounds likely would not be successful given the scattered housing in the subdivision surrounding the site of the attack and the scene’s proximity to nearby Mount Princeton Hot Springs Resort. 

“The couple did the right thing by making noise and shining a light on the lion,” Shepherd said. “Although this victim had only minor injuries, we take this incident seriously. We have alerted neighbors and posted signs warning of lion activity. And we will continue to track the lion and lion activity.”

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Tracy Ross

Tracy Ross is The Colorado Sun's rural economic development reporter. She also covers the outdoors, books and culture. She came to The Sun after a 20-year career covering the same beats for magazines like Outside, Backpacker, Bicycling and Skiing. Drop her a line with story tips and...