Wildlife officials credited a woman with saving her husband's life by clubbing a mountain lion that attacked him while the couple were hiking in a California state park.
Jim and Nell Hamm, who will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next month, were hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park when the lion pounced, officials said Thursday.
"He didn't scream. It was a different, horrible plea for help, and I turned around, and by then the cat had wrestled Jim to the ground," Nell Hamm said in an interview from the hospital where her husband was recovering from a torn scalp, puncture wounds and other injuries.
After the attack, game wardens closed the park about 320 miles north of San Francisco and released hounds to track the lion. They later shot and killed a pair of lions found near the trail where the attack happened.
The female mountain lion shot by game wardens was found to have human blood in her claws, leading the wildlife officials to believe the cat is responsible for attacking Hamm.
“We were confident from the start that we had the lions that were responsible,” said Steve Martarano, a California Department of Fish and Game spokesman.
The department’s wildlife forensics lab will now test the blood found in the lion’s claws to determine if it belongs to Hamm, Martarano said.
Although the Hamms are experienced hikers, neither had seen a mountain lion before Jim Hamm was mauled, his wife said. Nell Hamm 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. "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.
‘She saved his life, there is no doubt’
"She saved his life, there is no doubt about it," said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game.
Nell Hamm, 65, said she was scared to leave her dazed, bleeding husband alone, so the couple walked a quarter-mile to a trail head, where she gathered branches to protect them if more lions came around. They waited until a ranger came by and summoned help.
"My concern was to get Jim out of there," she said. "I told him, 'Get up, get up, walk,' and he did."
Jim Hamm, 70, was in fair condition Thursday. He had to have his lips stitched back together and underwent surgery for lacerations on his head and body.
Nell Hamm warned people never to hike in the backcountry alone. Park rangers told the couple if Jim Hamm had been alone, he probably would not have survived.
"We fought harder than we ever have to save his life, and we fought together," she said.