Video: Couple fights off mountain lion

updated 1/28/2007 3:20:34 PM ET 2007-01-28T20:20:34

A Northern California hiker attacked by a mountain lion last week is expected to be airlifted Sunday to a bigger hospital in San Francisco after his condition took turn for the worse this weekend.

A spokesman for Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata said Jim Hamm was rushed into emergency surgery Saturday night, and doctors downgraded him from fair to serious condition. He was back in the intensive care unit on Sunday morning but is awaiting an airlift to San Francisco.

Hospital spokesman Tom Ayotte said relatives requested that more details of Hamm’s condition not be released. But doctors are “always concerned” about infections if there is a serious animal bite, Ayotte said.

“We’re trying to be very proactive and be on top of that situation,” he said Sunday.

The 70-year-old Fortuna man first underwent surgery Wednesday after a mountain lion ambushed him at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. He and his wife, Nell, were hiking in the park when a female lion pounced on him, scalped him, mauled his face and inflicted other puncture wounds and scratches.

After the attack, game wardens closed the park about 320 miles north of San Francisco and released hounds to track the lion. They shot and killed a pair of lions found near the trail where the attack happened.

The carcasses were flown to a state forensics lab, where researchers identified the female lion as the attacker and confirmed that she did not have rabies.

Although the Hamms are experienced hikers, neither had seen a mountain lion before Jim Hamm was mauled, his wife said last week.

Nell Hamm, 65, said she grabbed a four-inch-wide log and beat the animal with it, but it would not release its hold on her husband’s head.

“Jim was talking to me all through this, and he said, ‘I’ve got a pen in my pocket and get the pen and jab him in the eye,”’ she said last week in an interview with The Associated press. “So I got the pen and tried to put it in his eye, but it didn’t want to go in as easy as I thought it would.”

When the pen bent and became useless, Nell Hamm went back to using the log. The lion eventually let go and, with blood on its snout, stood staring at the woman. She screamed and waved the log until the animal walked away.

The couple walked a quarter-mile to a trail head, where the wife gathered branches to protect them if more lions came around. They waited until a ranger came by and summoned help.

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