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Monday, May 27, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Ex-Wrestler Uses Moves To Thwart Cougar Attack -- Claws, Teeth Can't Match Choke Hold

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

A former college wrestler fended off a cougar attack on a popular hiking trail in Olympic National Park by locking his legs around the animal and squeezing its throat with his hands. Phil Anderson survived the attack Friday afternoon even though he could not choke the young, 80-pound cougar into unconsciousness. "I couldn't quite get my hands around his neck to shut off his esophagus. I could see in his eyes he was going in and out. He was right on the verge of passing out, but his neck was way too muscular," Anderson said yesterday from Port Angeles. After what Anderson thought was almost three minutes of holding the semiconscious cougar in a leg lock and choking it, he realized the cat's right paw might get some leverage against his chest. "I knew I couldn't hold him much longer. My muscles were cramping up. I was yelling, but the people in the parking lot must have thought it was kids playing. I wanted someone to come knock him in the head," Anderson said. With solid shoves against one another, the foes separated "and ran in different directions. I knew when we separated he would get me with his claws. I knew he would start to thrash." Anderson suffered a puncture wound to one hand and scratches and bites to his chest and stomach. The encounter happened above the parking lot near the Whiskey Bend trailhead in the Elwha Valley, 20 miles west of Port Angeles. Anderson, 28, a Spokane native, wrestled at Gonzaga Prep and in the Army. He qualified for the national collegiate championship tournament as a freshman at Western Oregon State College. His wrestling career ended when he "popped both shoulders out of their sockets." He is 5 feet 6 inches tall and a muscular 155 pounds. Unaware it was illegal to bicycle in the area, Anderson rode his mountain bike on the Whiskey Bend trail and stopped near the end of his return trip to pull on a sweat shirt. "I saw him out of the corner of my eye, movement or something. He was a darker brown than the surroundings. This guy didn't make a noise, and he came prancing right at me," said Anderson, who waits tables at a Port Angeles restaurant and works with his brother to promote mountain-bike races. Anderson knew running would make him prey for the cougar. "My first thought was that there was a mother cougar around somewhere. I knew I didn't want to turn my back on him. I kind of backpedaled around in a circle." When the animal charged, Anderson said he "got really mad at him. I tried to kind of suck myself into him and rolled onto my back." With the cougar on top, Anderson said he whipped his legs around the cat's waist. Using a defensive fighting technique he learned from a videotape, he used his forearms to spread the cat's front legs. He had practiced last winter with a Seattle friend's 80-pound German shepherd. The cougar looked "pretty shocked" when Anderson tried to pinch off its esophagus, said Anderson. But the cougar was a lot stronger than his friend's dog. Anderson was tiring badly but realized the cat by now would probably run off if he let go. When he relaxed his grip and pushed away, so did the cougar. Both fled. Park Ranger Gary Gissell found cougar paw prints at the scene but did not see the animal. It was the first cougar attack on a human in Gissell's nine years at the park. "It is pretty unusual. There have been quite a number of cougar sightings in the park, about one a week. But they are just sightings, a cougar running across a trail. "The animal charging him is unusual behavior," said Gissell. Usually cougars are afraid of humans. "Maybe this one is now," Gissell said. Two cougars have been seen in this area, Gissell said. He did not think the cougar would be hunted down because the animals are difficult to track and identify. But the final decision would be made by park biologists. Anderson was not ticketed for riding on the park trail. "That was his warning," Gissell said. Hikers should travel in groups and, when encountering a cougar, should "make themselves look as big as you can and shout and throw things at the cougar. And if you are attacked, fight back as aggressively as you can," Gissell said.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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