A Rapid City man was attacked by a mountain lion Saturday at Sheridan Lake.
The attack marks the first time a wild lion has attacked a human in recent history within the state.
Ryan Hughes was fishing near Chipper Bay, on the south side of Sheridan Lake when the attack happened. Hughes was bitten and scratched but not seriously injured. He has received rabies shots in case the lion was rabid.
Hughes was ice fishing on the lake and headed to shore to use the bathroom when he spotted the cougar.
“There was a thin line of cattails. He walked into them, and then noticed there was a lion lying four or five feet from him crouched down,” said Mike Kintigh, regional supervisor with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. “The victim reported the lion had something in its mouth. He thought it was a fox, so it does look like the victim unknowingly walked right up on the lion that was in the process of feeding. It may have responded to his presence as a threat of his food.”
The lion then dropped the food and when after Hughes.
He reported to the GF&P that the attack lasted for five minutes, resulting in scratches and puncture wounds to his right hand and right side of the face.
“But in situations like this, based on our experience, time drags on. I really question if it was on him that long,” Kintigh said. “We’ve had our dogs that come in contact with a mountain lion for five seconds and we put 800 stitches in them. For this fellow to have a lion on him for five minutes and have the limited injuries that he had, I think time was standing still for him.”
Hughes was treated and released from the Rapid City Regional Hospital.
Kintigh and John Kanta, regional wildlife manager with the GF&P, met Hughes at the hospital.
Kintigh said the state’s lion dogs and several law enforcement officers responded to the scene within a couple hours of the attack and began to search for the lion.
“There was some confusion based on the statements he gave at the hospital as to the actual location. The dog team wasn’t coming up with anything in the area that he described. We searched the area till 8:30 p.m., so we were beginning to question whether or not we were in the right spot,” Kintigh said. “We contacted the victim again and he went up with us on Sunday morning and showed us the actual place.
“We weren’t very far off with the dog team. We turned them back out on Sunday morning for a few hours but could not come up with a lion.”
With no new information to go on, Kintigh said they are taking a step back.
“At this point we are reevaluating our options,” he said. “We don’t want to go up there and expand our search and come up with another lion that wasn’t involved. We want the lion that did this.”
By the GF&P's protocol, Kintigh said, if found, the lion will be killed.
The attack marked an extremely rare occurrence, and while lions have attacked people in other states before, never in South Dakota.
“In our eyes an attack is when there is contact between a lion and a human,” he said. “We’ve had some close calls where people were pretty scared by them, and the lions were pretty close to them, but this one there appears to be actual physical contact.”
Despite the recent attack, Kintigh said people do not need to panic.
“I think I can say to anyone who is worries about this is that this is an extremely rare occurrence. Lion attacks do happen. We’ve stated that before. They have happened in other states, we’ve just haven’t documented one in recent history here,” he said.
“It is not something people need to be overly concerned about,” he said. “Our department maintains a very strict policy on addressing problem lions. We’ve been quick to respond and remove those problem lions.’
In the past two “domesticated” lions have injured people.
“One jumped through a window of a Winnebago at Bear Country and many years ago there was a lion that made physical contact with a young boy down in Custer State Park, he said. “But that was a lion that escaped from their zoo at the time and was considered to be fairly domesticated. It got out of the pen and jumped on a young boy, when they tried to coax it back in the car to return it to the zoo.”
The GF&P provides information to people on what to do if they encounter or are attacked by a lion and have done so for several years. The information can be found at http://www.sdgfp.info/Wildlife/MountainLions/Language.htm.
“At this point we feel that we have covered the immediate area very thoroughly and we can not come up with the lion,” he said. “We will continue to watch and monitor the area. We suspect that it may have been an injured or sick lion to behave in this fashion too, in which case past history would tell us that we’ll get additional reports on it.”
Their two-day search for the lion found no fresh sign, but several indications of older sign.
“I think we’ve done all we can for the time being. We’ve searched the area very thoroughly over a two-day period and haven’t been able to come up with anything fresh.”
If new information does arrive, Kintigh said the GF&P would respond quickly.