Guests: Anne Hjelle, Debi Nichols, Walter Boyce
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT.
DEBORAH NORVILLE, HOST: Attacked by a mountain lion. Anne Hjelle is an ex-Marine, but she was no match for this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘ve got a lady that‘s attacked by a mountain lion. Her face is almost gone.
NORVILLE: Tonight, how a bike ride turned into a horrifying fight for survival when she suddenly came face-to-face with a mountain lion on the attack.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was holding onto her the whole time. This guy would not let go. He had a hold of her face.
NORVILLE: Anne Hjelle, snatched from the jaws of certain death. Her grueling recovery will amaze you.
Tonight, she recounts her story of survival, and we‘ll meet the friend who put her life on the line to rescue Anne.
ANNOUNCER: From Studio 3-K in Rockefeller Center, Deborah Norville.
NORVILLE: And good evening.
It‘s been four and a half months since Anne Hjelle narrowly escaped death. Biking through a California wildness park, she was savagely attacked by a 120-pound mountain lion, the same lion that had killed another biker just a few hours other.
Her face and her neck were terribly torn up. She‘s undergone reconstructive surgery, and tonight she joins me to tell her incredible story.
Her friend, who courageously risked her own life to save Anne‘s, will also be with us in a short bit, as well as Anne‘s husband. But first, it‘s a pleasure to say hi to Anne Hjelle.
Good to see you.
ANNE HJELLE, SURVIVED MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK: Thank you.
NORVILLE: This adventure started on what was just a typical, normal day for you. Talk about January 8, the early part of the day.
HJELLE: The earlier part of the day, Debi and I decided to go on a ride in the afternoon. We had scheduled to meet, I think, at about 4 p.m., and started our ride, as we would any other time.
And came up to a point where we chatted with one of our friends, Heather. Heather went one direction. Debi and I went another. As we turned down the trail, it‘s a tight, single-track section where the trail is maybe 18 inches wide in most places.
NORVILLE: So you have to go single file and kind of space yourselves out a little bit?
HJELLE: Exactly. And it‘s very fast. It‘s the fun part of the ride, what you work for.
NORVILLE: What is it about mountain biking that gets you so jazzed?
Because I know this is a passion of yours.
HJELLE: It is. I love it. Part of it is in the area that we live in, it‘s fast paced, so for us to be able to go down a trail or in a wildness park like that and get away from it all is really the reason that we love to do it.
NORVILLE: Because you live in southern California, which gets increasingly more crowded and more built up, it seems, as every single year goes by.
NORVILLE: What‘s it like when you‘re out there mountain biking? What‘s going through your head as the wind is blowing past your face and you‘re huffing and puffing up and down the trails? Why is this such a great release for somebody like you?
HJELLE: Well, it‘s great fun. I mean, part of it, as a cross-country rider is that we work hard to get to the top of the hill, and then the pay off is the downhill. So just like it was that day.
But it‘s a great work out, one of the hardest sports, I think, I‘ve ever done and it‘s just great fun.
NORVILLE: And you‘re no pansy. I mean, we saw a picture of you just now. You are a former Marine. You are a physical trainer by profession. You don‘t shy away from the tough sports and the physical challenges.
HJELLE: We like the work involved in it. That‘s part of what we enjoy.
NORVILLE: So you and your friend Debi Nichols were on the trail and you just said so long to the other woman that you‘d met up there biking. And you‘re about to do the good part.
NORVILLE: Tell me about it.
HJELLE: So we started down the trail. Maybe a minute down the trail, we came around a blind corner. Debi was right behind me.
And I came upon a guy who was standing with a bike propped up against some bushes. And he said to me something like, “I found this abandoned bike.” And I thought I had just seen a couple of guys go down that trail so I thought that he was joking around.
And I said to him, “You‘re joking, right?” And by that time I was already past him.
NORVILLE: So you didn‘t stop. You were just sort of talking as you go rolling past?
HJELLE: Right. I slowed down because he was kind of not in the middle of the trail, but where I definitely had to slow down to make sure that I didn‘t hit him.
But by the time I answered back to him, I was already up over the next ridge, even though I did brake when I heard him say that.
NORVILLE: And then your friend Debi was right behind. And she obviously saw the guy. Did she chat with him, as well?
HJELLE: I don‘t believe so. I think she may have thought that I asked him if he was OK, which is normally what you would do. If you would see someone fixing a flat tire, you would ask them, “Do you have everything you need,” something to that effect.
So she perhaps assumed that I had talked with him, and because I kept going, everything was fine. So she did continue, as well.
NORVILLE: So—So you slowed down a little bit and then you‘re powering up again?
HJELLE: Right. I came over that little rise. And a couple more turns went by and suddenly, I saw a flash of movement over my right shoulder. Something caught my eye. And I noticed it was a reddish brown color, fur, so I knew that it was some type of animal.
NORVILLE: And this was an area, before you go into this park where you were riding, everybody knows there‘s wildlife and it‘s clearly marked, mountain lion territory. They are in there and everybody knows it.
Had you seen pumas before when you were out biking around?
HJELLE: I had never seen one. They‘re extremely elusive animals.
And many people that I ride with have seen them, but oftentimes it‘s as they‘re bounding off into the woods.
They don‘t typically—As with the coyotes, when I‘ve seen them on the trail, they like stand and just stare at you, whereas mountain lions typically would just take off.
NORVILLE: So you see this quick flash of red fur before you in the distance. Where exactly was it in relation to you as you were coming down the bike path?
HJELLE: It was directly over my right shoulder. Just—With my peripheral vision I caught it right over my right shoulder. So just a flash of movement, and suddenly I was off my bike. I mean, I really don‘t remember even hitting the ground. I just felt that impact from him coming out of the bushes.
NORVILLE: And what did it feel like?
HJELLE: Well, I was scared. I knew—you know, initially, I thought, it could be a deer that I had startled, but when it grabbed on to me, I knew what it was, knew that it was a lion, and I knew that I was in serious trouble. I cried out and I said, “Jesus help me.” I knew that I was in big trouble.
NORVILLE: Was that an expletive kind of “Jesus help me” or...
HJELLE: It was prayerful. It was directed towards him. I mean, it was—it was something that I thought about. It wasn‘t as though that‘s just what came out of my mouth. It was I know I‘m in big trouble and I could very easily die and that was...
NORVILLE: “Lord, you‘ve to help me...”
NORVILLE: “... now.”
NORVILLE: You knew it was a lion.
NORVILLE: And it grabbed you where? How?
HJELLE: By the back of the next with its teeth. It grabbed me on my shoulders with its paws. I actually had claw marks from where he grabbed a hold of me.
NORVILLE: And then he just powered you down onto the ground off your bike?
HJELLE: He did. And it happened so fast—I was so stunned by it, that I don‘t remember hitting the ground. I mean, I hit with such impact that this elbow was black and blue for weeks. I mean, I‘d never had that a bruise that severe in all my years of riding with plenty of crashes.
So I know that I hit with a lot of force, but I don‘t even remember hitting the ground, because it happened so quickly. And I was just stunned by it.
NORVILLE: And then he did what?
HJELLE: Well, he immediately started to try to drag me off of the trail. He did—I‘m not sure at what point, but he did readjust and start to move around to the front of my head to my face.
NORVILLE: You could feel his jaws coming on to your face.
HJELLE: I was aware when he clamped down here on the left side of my face, yes.
NORVILLE: Could you smell him?
HJELLE: You know, I couldn‘t. And in fact, a lot of people have asked me, too, about what kind of sounds he made. And he made no sound. I mean, there‘s no rustling as he‘s bounding through the brush. They figure that he was about five feet off the trail, kind of bedded down.
And one thing about mountain lions is they can, from a crouch position jump horizontally 40, 45 feet. So for him to be five feet off the trail and hitting me when I‘m moving 15 miles per hour, that‘s a lot of power in that jump.
NORVILLE: As he bit you, did it hurt? It must have been horrifically painful.
HJELLE: You know, I don‘t remember any pain associated with that when he clamped down, and I felt my cheek basically tear away. But I felt his power, his strength was just unbelievable. And I realized, for that tissue to just peel away like that, that‘s a lot of force.
NORVILLE: You could feel—I mean, it‘s obvious on your cheek where the biggest part of the injury was. You could feel it take your face off your skull?
HJELLE: Yes. And like I said, though, no pain. So it was unusual. I mean, it was terrifying in that I knew I was in serious trouble with this lion having hold of me like that. And I did feel that tear away and knew instantly the amount of damage he had just done.
NORVILLE: Did you think, this is it, I must be dying, this is a horrific injury I‘ve just sustained. Because you‘re obviously conscious of what is going on as this terror is moving on around you.
HJELLE: Right. Right. It‘s kind of slow motion. I‘m not really sure if this is happening to me.
But my thought—my first thought when I felt that tear away was, I want to die, thinking of the damage that was just done to me. And I‘m thinking, “He just tore my face off.”
But my next thought was of my husband and wanting to make it for him. So it kind of instantly, my thoughts changed to where I did want to make it.
NORVILLE: You weren‘t the only one at that moment thinking, Anne has got to live. Right behind you on the trail was your friend Debi Nichols.
HJELLE: That‘s right.
NORVILLE: And Debi is joining us now. She is an avid biker. She is in training, and she‘s all decked out in her uniform out in California.
Welcome, Debi Nichols. It‘s so nice to see you. We‘re glad you‘re with us tonight.
DEBI NICHOLS, FRIEND: Thank you.
NORVILLE: I know you have been listening to Anne share the story of how the lion jumped her. When you saw, as you came around the bend on the trail what had happened, what was your first response?
NICHOLS: I just saw him, you know, on her back. And she on the ground and looking like, you know, she was going to be drug off.
I threw my bike and just, you know, lunged towards her, grabbing her leg and just held on, because, you know, he was trying to drag her off the trail down a mountainside. So I just held on.
NORVILLE: So you‘re holding on to Anne‘s ankles as the lion has her by the face and neck, and all three of you are going into the brush?
NORVILLE: What was going through your mind? You must have thought, when he gets finished with her, I‘m next?
NICHOLS: You know, I didn‘t have time to even think in that direction. All I could think of is, you know, “Dear Lord, please help me hang on to her leg.”
It took all my strength because of his size. And Anne and I are similar in size. But I was just digging my heals in and trying to, you know, hold my ground with him. It was just basically a tug of war, you know?
And I never recall him looking at me or growling at me. He was very quiet, but he was really focused on Anne and he wasn‘t letting go. You know, he would go for awhile and move down the mountain. Then he would kind of readjust.
And eventually, you know, was on her neck, and I was concerned at that time, you know, how long she would be able to stand that.
NORVILLE: It was an incredible tug of war, the lion at Anne‘s head, Debi Nichols holding on to her ankles.
We‘re going to take a short break. When we come back, how the tug of war ended and the good piece of luck that made sure both of these women came out of the brush alive. More when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, a wrong turn on a bike path turns into a fight for life and lightning speed heroics.
NICHOLS: I just held on and screamed as loud as I could.
ANNOUNCER: More with Anne Hjelle and Debi Nichols when DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT returns.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What happened?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a lady that is attacked by a mountain lion in her face. Her face is almost gone. I need people out here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Where?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whiting Ranch. Cactus Ridge. Whiting Ranch.
She‘s in bad condition. I would get somebody here now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
NORVILLE: That was the 911 call made from the scene by one of the cyclists who helped to rescue Anne Hjelle.
Anne Hjelle is my guest tonight, along with her rescuer and good friend Debi Nichols, who is in training out in California.
When you hear that cell phone call replayed, does it send chills down your spine?
HJELLE: You know, initially it did. I think I‘ve heard it so many times now. But it does make me think what it was that they were seeing on the trail.
Even by the time my husband saw me, they had cleaned me up. But I can‘t even imagine, for example, what Debi really saw.
NORVILLE: But those guys didn‘t get to you until Debi had had quite a tug of bar.
Debi, at any point when you and the lion were fighting over Anne and it‘s dragging both of you into the brush, did you think, “I‘m not going to be able to hold on. I‘m going to lose her. What do I do?”
NICHOLS: Yes. I just kept praying a lot to have strength, because I
· you know, as I was yelling, I was, you know, looking up, hoping to see, you know, the guys that we had passed on the trail, hoping that they would hear my screams, and eventually they did.
And I yelled up to them. I said...
NORVILLE: Did you say anything to Anne as you were yelling, too?
Were you guys able to communicate as this tug of war was going on?
NICHOLS: At one point, you know, she was concerned about the situation, and I said, “I‘m not—I‘ll never let go of you.”
It—pretty much all that I had time to do was really just hold on and just keep screaming so that, you know, we could get somebody there. And eventually Nills (ph), you know, came to the top of the trail, and I yelled up to him, you now, “You‘ve got to come down and help me.”
And you know, he could see a different situation, and I‘m sure it was really frightening to him. But—So I just continued to, you know, yell for the help. And...
NORVILLE: And they were reluctant to come down, right? I mean, they were—hey were standing at the top of the trail sort of obviously horrified by what they saw, and I‘m guessing completely flummoxed as what would be the best thing to do to try to help you guys. They eventually started throwing rocks.
NICHOLS: Right. I just, I said, “You‘ve got to start throwing some rocks,” which they did. And then some other riders came down and also, you know, were throwing rocks, and eventually the lion was hit and released. And they were still concerned that he was in the area.
NORVILLE: That he was going to come back? Absolutely.
And Anne, as this was going on and Debi is yelling at the guys to throw the rocks and they beginning picking up whatever boulders they can find, how are you doing?
You clearly are being dragged further and further. By now you‘ve sustained some loss of blood. And I notice on your neck, I can see what look like puncture wounds?
HJELLE: Right. From his teeth. He did finally get hold of the front of my neck and clamp down. And literally it‘s like a vice. It absolutely cut off all of my air supply, and I did pass out then.
NORVILLE: And did you feel yourself losing consciousness? Were you aware?
HJELLE: I knew—Things started to go black, and I knew that I was about to pass out, which to me meant this was probably it, that I thought that I was going to die at that point.
NORVILLE: And Debi, did you feel Anne go limp as she was losing consciousness?
NICHOLS: Yes, I did. You know, we were pretty much at this standstill where there was a tree that the lion was pushed up against, and he was, you know, frustrated.
And, you know, once they did hit and he released, I tried to start turning her to pull her up the hill, and I was getting her arms caught in the brush and I again said, you know, “Come down and help me pull her up.”
They eventually did, Mike and another gentleman, Duane, pushed down a tree so we could pull her up, you know, back up onto the trail.
And at that time, she was conscious, because she—I could tell that her neck was really bothering her. She was fussing and trying to get air. And she motioned in some way for me to get her helmet off, which I did.
And you know, we eventually got her on the top of the trail, and then I just asked for a t-shirt to apply some pressure to her face and then noticed that, you know, she was clotting, you know, in her eye area and her nose, and I was pulling those away so that she could breathe.
And she was very conscious at that point.
NORVILLE: And what were you conscious of, Anne, as you laid there and your friend was tending to you? What were you thoughts?
HJELLE: Well, one of the first things I remember, I mean, once I came to, it‘s almost as though I was underwater. I literally could not get any air, it was so filled with blood in my airway, and I did finally catch my breath.
And like Debi said, I felt as though that strap of my helmet was constricting and just tried to get that off.
But once they got me up to the trail, I remember looking and thinking that the men standing there were paramedics and realizing then that everyone was holding rocks, and I had no idea what they were doing. I didn‘t have any clue that that was what gotten the lion to release.
NORVILLE: So you just see a bunch of guys standing there with boulders and you going this is really not what we need at this point in time.
NORVILLE: Did anybody have a first aid kit in their backpacks?
HJELLE: You know, it‘s funny because I did, and I didn‘t think about it. I had gauze. I had a bunch of things. I mean, we laughed about it later, you know, that we used a T-shirt and it ended up being fine. But it kind of gave us a good laugh when we realized that.
NORVILLE: And—and Debi, even though you were concerned about the terrible blood clots that were forming on Anne‘s face and in her airways, it actually turned out to be a very good thing that they were there.
NICHOLS: Oh, yes. Yes. You know, her blood loss was not like I thought it would be. You know, facial trauma is usually pretty heavy. And, you know, the T-shirt was soaked, but not to the extent that, you know, because she has this clotting disorder, it was just really to her advantage. And it really did save her life along with the helmet.
NORVILLE: And this clotting disorder, Anne, is what, you clot very quickly? Very heavily?
HJELLE: Quickly, easily. I‘m in danger of, you know, a heart attack or stroke because of the blood clotting disorder. It‘s hereditary and I found out maybe a year ago.
So it was good, I think, that we knew that so that—you know, it did work to my advantage I think. But then, on the other hand, sitting in a hospital bed for a week could be dangerous with that type of disorder.
NORVILLE: But getting to the hospital was yet another challenge in this incredible ordeal. You‘re laying on the trail. Clearly, there is a puma nearby that wanted to kill you.
And as we discovered later, these hunters going in, the park rangers with their guns eventually did find the animal and discovered that, indeed, he had killed the man whose bike you had passed by.
NORVILLE: When you realized that, what went through your mind?
HJELLE: You know, I don‘t know that I knew that until the next day.
But obviously, that‘s a very tragic situation, especially to have it be—you know, he was doing something that he loved, which maybe is a good thing. And it‘s a sport we all love, but it does make you kind of think twice about going out there.
NORVILLE: He of course being Mark Richardson, the gentleman whose photograph we just were looking at. And that, of course, is the mountain lion that attacked both you and him.
You said when you were on the trail at one point you thought about just giving up and just letting what was going to happen happen. The thoughts of your husband stopped you?
HJELLE: Right. He and I are very close, and I just started to think about what it would be like, you know, if I were to lose him or he were to lose me. It would be very tough on either of us. So that was something that got me to fight a little bit longer, definitely.
NORVILLE: The man who got you to fight is here in the studio, too.
We‘re going to introduce you to Anne‘s husband James in just a moment. Anne and Debi will be back, and we‘ll be joined by Anne‘s husband, James Poindexter. He‘ll talk about what it was like for him when he saw his wife for the first time after the terrible attack.
More right after this break.
NORVILLE: Since 1994, there have been three people killed in California by mountain lions. Last January, Anne Hjelle was nearly the fourth.
She‘s back with me with her friend and rescuer, Debi Nichols. And also joining us is Anne‘s husband, James Poindexter.
It‘s good to see you. Welcome.
JAMES POINDEXTER, ANNE‘S HUSBAND: Good to see you. Thank you.
NORVILLE: What was it like when you got the phone call and you got to the hospital and you saw Anne?
POINDEXTER: When I got the phone call, I was at work teaching a class. And Debi Nichols had called me. She sounded very upset and distraught, and she said Anne has just been attacked by a mountain lion. She‘s being air lifted to Mission Hospital and you need to get to the hospital.
And it was really unreal to kind of—I was kind of processing as the phone hung up. And you know, I just kind of—adrenaline, emotion, everything. And then having to try to whisk my students out the door so that I could leave instantly.
It was a—it was a pretty unbelievable experience.
NORVILLE: And, Debi, you were not only calling James to let him know that Anne had been injured. You also, as luck would have it, are married to a facial surgeon. And you were on the phone with your husband as well and getting him over to the hospital.
NICHOLS: Yes. There‘s a lot of incredible things to this story. So he was able to be with Anne through the surgery. He didn‘t do any of the facial trauma because she didn‘t have any fractures. But the surgeons that she had were incredible. She was very blessed to have those surgeons.
NORVILLE: Anne, how important was it for you knowing that Debi and Debi‘s husband were there kind of overseeing the whole process? Or maybe you were unaware.
And, James, you were the only who really knew that someone close to the family was also involved in the whole medical process.
POINDEXTER: It was really nice, since Dave came out of the surgery room many times just to keep us updated with what was going on, because the surgery lasted over six hours. So we were sitting there most of the night, you know, just mostly worrying what‘s happening and what is going on. And so he came out and updated us and let us know what the surgeons found, what they were doing, you know, the extent of the injuries and things like that.
So it really gave the family a little more understanding and peace to know what was happening.
NORVILLE: Anne, when you see those pictures like this one here with your mom and dad, and the one we saw a second ago with James, does it astonish you the progress you have made? You look incredible. You truly do. To have endured what you did, you must have had so many different surgeries.
HJELLE: I have had one surgery, the initial surgery from that night. When we had a chance to look at the presurgery photos and really, first of all, understand the extent of the damage that the lion had done, and secondly, even the amount of swelling I had going into the surgery because I had to wait to go into the surgery room.
I do think that it‘s incredible. And we had a team of doctors, but—we had an ENT, ear nose and throat, surgeon, who also repaired the nerve damage and we were kind of waiting to see what‘s going to happen with that, Dr. Wolgenmuth (ph). And then Dr. Nolan was the plastic surgeon. And they‘re just topnotch surgeons. And we feel so blessed to have people of that quality to have worked on me.
NORVILLE: And they just happened to be at the hospital the night you were brought in?
HJELLE: As I understand it, they were on call. So in order to get a team of surgeons like that together, I think, even if I had tried to schedule the surgery ahead of time, I don‘t know that I could have gotten those type of people. So...
NORVILLE: Will you have to have more surgeries in the future to deal with the scarring?
HJELLE: Dr. Nolan has said maybe three to five surgeries over the next five years, so I do have more down the line.
NORVILLE: And I know all of you are very athletic people.
And, Debi, you are training right now for a very important competition that you‘re going to be in. Has what happened to Anne changed your own sense of well being when you were out in the wildness doing your biking? Do you feel differently when you saddle up now?
NICHOLS: A little bit, yes. I am definitely looking around my shoulder a few times. You know, I ride horses, too. And it‘s just everything, you‘re so much more—your senses are so much more aware.
I try and tell my husband or whoever is around where I‘m going to be, because we go in really remote areas when we do our training and are gone for hours sometimes. So I feel comfortable back on my bike. I have got Anne on a road bike and we‘re enjoying that. But I still have to get in the mountain and do my downhill training.
NORVILLE: And when you learned, all of you, what happened had happened to the man on the bike. And I‘ll correct myself. His name is Mark Reynolds.
HJELLE: Right. Right.
NORVILLE: Who had been the first victim of the mountain lion, that must have been such a chilling thought. And I know you have had time to spend time with his family, Anne.
HJELLE: I did have the opportunity to meet with them. And at the time it was very fresh and I know that it was really difficult probably even for them even to see me, being a survivor of the attack. I think maybe it was tough. But we have had a chance to e-mail back and forth. I have talked with Donna (ph), his mom, a couple of days ago. And we really do have a lifelong connection. It‘s going to be there.
And I feel like we want to help them in any way possible, and we just really value their friendship through this.
NORVILLE: And what are your thoughts about the mountain lion itself and just the way—there‘s this whole notion of peaceful cohabitation. You‘re out there in the wild. They‘re out there in the wild. And in your own case and in Mark‘s own case, when the twain met, it was very tragic.
It‘s a really tough situation. And it‘s tough really to even know the reasons that Mark was attacked in the first place. If we were able to figure that out, if that was clear-cut, then the solution would be clear-cut as well. But I think that makes it really difficult to make any kind of a call on what should be done. But we hope that whatever it takes, that we can prevent things like this from happening in the future.
NORVILLE: James, do you have any thoughts about that whole aspect of it, the sharing of space with the wildlife that is out there?
POINDEXTER: I just think that that‘s kind of—it‘s really hard to answer a question like that. You know, there‘s people that are experienced with wildlife and things like that. And I don‘t think I have the knowledge to answer a question like that.
But, you know, it‘s not going to stop me from riding my bike or going out and exercising or anything like that. It‘s just—you need to be more aware. You need to know what to do in situations if they do arise. You should always carry a cell phone, always ride with somebody if you have a chance to. I‘m not saying that riding with somebody is going to save your life. You would have to ride with six people in Anne‘s case.
POINDEXTER: So, yes, it‘s hard to say. But you just have to be more careful and be aware of what is going on around you.
NORVILLE: Well, indeed the issue of man and beast in the same territory is one that we‘re going to talk about in just a second. I‘m going to ask you guys to stand by.
And certainly riding with a friend saved one person‘s life and we want to thank that friend.
Debi Nichols, I know you have got some training you‘ve got to get to. Thank you so much for taking a break to be with us. And congratulations on the incredible role that you‘ve played as friend in this story. We appreciate it.
When we come back, we are going to look at the whole issue of sharing territory with animals. We have got an expert coming up. We will get his thoughts right after this.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, survival of the fittest. They were once the kings of their domain. Now man is encroaching on their territory, sometimes with deadly consequences. Can humans live side by side with nature‘s predators? Tonight, one animal expert‘s advice on how to coexist with the wild.
DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT is coming right back.
NORVILLE: A mountain biker survives a brutal mountain lion attack. But could our expanding cities put more of us at risk to wild animal encounters? That‘s next.
NORVILLE: We‘ve been talking about the amazing story of Anne Hjelle, who survived a mountain lion attack in a California wildness park in January. And on Tuesday, this was the scene in Palo Alto, California, where a mountain lion strayed into a neighborhood right in the heart of the city. The lion was discovered resting in a tree. It was shot and killed by police.
Now, confrontations between predators and people are rare, though they can be near-death experiences, as certainly Anne Hjelle knows. Anne and her husband will be back with me in just a couple minutes.
But, first, I want to bring in Dr. Walter Boyce. He is the director of the U.C. Davis Wildlife Health Center. He has been looking at the issue of who is infringing on whom and can there really be a peaceful coexistence between wildlife and humans.
Dr. Boyce, good to see you. Thanks for being with us.
DR. WALTER BOYCE, DIRECTOR, U.C. DAVIS WILDLIFE HEALTH CARE CENTER:
NORVILLE: You have done a big study actually looking at the mountain lion population just south of the area, about 75 miles south of where Anne Hjelle was biking. What did you learn about the coexistence of mountain lions and humans in what is really a pretty tight proximity these days?
BOYCE: It‘s a challenging situation. We have lots of people who love to play, work and live in mountain lion habitat. And we have a pretty good number of mountain lions and it‘s a real challenge finding ways that lions and people can share the habitat.
NORVILLE: Normally mountain lions, as Anne Hjelle was saying a few moments ago, are very reclusive creatures. They don‘t really want to interact with humans.
But we do hear more reports recently of sightings, of close encounters. And it‘s kind of scary if you live in an area, as many Californians do, where they‘re so close.
BOYCE: That‘s true.
And the situation with lions is ordinarily they‘re not very active and not very obvious during the day. They‘re usually laying in bushes waiting to become active around dusk, during the evening and dawn hours. So we‘re most active during the day. We don‘t see them because they‘re least active. But there are so many people and we‘re basically—we love to work and play in areas that lions occur that it‘s just natural that there would be more sightings.
But the number of incidents and attacks have increased over the past couple of decades. And it leads us to wonder, what are the reasons for this and what can we do to minimize the risk to people and lions?
NORVILLE: There used to be a program in California from like 1907 to 1963. There was actually a bounty, something like $30 a head. If you shot a mountain lion and brought it in, you got the reward money. That‘s been stopped and the species is now protected by state law. Should that be changed? Should there be a controlled shoot of these things, or is that completely the wrong way to look at it and maybe it‘s man who needs to back off?
BOYCE: I think the only way to approach these issues are with facts, with information, rather than emotion.
It‘s clear that mountain lion numbers declined for quite a period of time in the 1900s. And those numbers have decreased because people value mountain lions as part of the environment. But there‘s a cost of having mountain lions out there. Basically, we have to figure out if we‘re willing to tolerate their presence.
NORVILLE: And what is—you know, who decides? I mean, I think I could probably speak for Anne Hjelle and say that‘s a pretty high price to pay. And certainly Mark Reynolds‘ family would say it‘s not worth anyone risking their lives so that a four-legged animal, as beautiful and exciting to watch as it is, can be free to go out and kill the next person on a mountain bike.
BOYCE: At an individual level, we all make choices. We elect to do some things that are riskier than other things. Ultimately, the fate of mountain lions and indeed all wildlife are in the hands of people in general. We will pass laws that protect them or will allow us to hunt them.
But really what is going to determine I think the relationship between people and lions down the road is how we behave around mountain lions and what we‘ll regard as acceptable behavior from mountain lions.
NORVILLE: Well, from your study, how should humans behave so that they can remain safe and the species remain protected?
BOYCE: The thing about mountain lions that you have to remember is, wherever you have deer, you have the possibility of having mountain lions. A lot of people in the Eastern U.S. think, well, we don‘t have lions here even though we have dear.
But I‘ll tell you, mountain lions are moving their way back East. They used to be there. They will be there again in the future. Here in the Western U.S., where you have deer, you have mountain lions. And so we need to accept that we live in mountain lion habitat. And even though you don‘t see one right now, you need to be aware that there might be a lion out there.
So what kind of things can we do to keep ourselves and our animals safe and ideally keep lions safe? Dogs and cats, a good example. If you allow your dog and cat to run loose outdoors outside your house and you‘re in mountain lion habitat, a mountain lion is an opportunistic predator. And they will look at that as an easy meal. That tends to draws the animal in closer to people. It puts the pets at risk. It puts a lion at risk.
NORVILLE: Well, now, this lion that they just shot earlier this week in Palo Alto, when they did the autopsy on it, they found that it was undernourished, that it less well fed than it should have been. Is there a greater risk then because the habitats are becoming smaller, the lions that are there have fewer food sources and so the backyard dog or the small child looks like a tasty alternative?
BOYCE: Really, mountain lions key in on deer. They require a huge amount of country. A single mountain lion might use 100 square miles of territory, 10 miles by 10 miles. What‘s happening a lot right now are these lions that are showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time, many of them are youngsters. They are around 2 years of age.
And our lions, unlike African lions are solitary. If they stay where there‘s already adult lions, they run the risk of being killed themselves. So as they reach about 2 years of age, they strike off in any direction to establish their own home range. In California and many places in the U.S., there‘s not many places you can go where you‘re not going to run into people pretty quickly.
NORVILLE: And what can you say about the lion that attacked Anne Hjelle? Was it one of these young ones that was out or was this an older, more mature lion?
BOYCE: That was an adult lion. And Anne said it herself. We really don‘t understand what triggered this lion to attack in this situation. The one thing we can say for sure is that lion attacks on people are rare.
They‘re going to continue, but it‘s going to happen very rarely. There are things you can do to keep yourself safer. But you will never be completely safe if you‘re in lion habitat. The best you can do is be aware and not do things that might put you at higher risk.
NORVILLE: All right, we‘re going to let that be the last word. Dr. Walter Boyce, thanks so much for your insights. We do appreciate it and that amazing footage that you helped provide for us as well.
BOYCE: Thank you.
NORVILLE: We will be back in just a moment, more with Anne Hjelle, who survived the mountain lion attack, and her husband, James. What is next for them? We will find out.
NORVILLE: I‘m back with Anne Hjelle, who survived a mountain lion attack, and her husband, James Poindexter.
When I look at your story, there have been so many amazing coincidental moments that, had it gone another way, the story would have ended very differently. You mentioned the woman Heather that you passed on the bike trail going down.
Well, we talked for a few minutes. And Heather, when we were talking just before Debi and I went the other direction, talked about, she had had nightmares. Her son kept calling her. She felt like she needed to go home now. She just felt this urge to go home. She went in a different direction. About a minute and a half down the trail where she was she, started reading a verse, Bible verse, that was taped to the top tube of her bike.
And it says, the lord is my light and my salvation. Whom I shall fear? The lord is the strength of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid? Now, we didn‘t realize until probably a couple weeks after I got out of the hospital that the next verse says, when the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, my enemies and foes, they stumbled and fell. Well, she was reading this verse and weeping on the trail.
NORVILLE: I have a chill.
HJELLE: Yes, we had a chill, too.
HJELLE: And there was a lot of—there was a woman in our church who two days before this happened, she felt like God told her to pray for protection from mountain lions, things that seem bizarre. But to us, they‘re not coincidences. To us, they‘re miracles and just show God‘s protection.
NORVILLE: You are a couple of great faith. And I know that you believe God‘s hand has been supporting you throughout all of this.
NORVILLE: How so, James?
POINDEXTER: Well, the first instant I felt just a peace come over me about the whole incident was when I went down to the church before I seen saw Anne. And I didn‘t know what was going to be the case when I saw her, if she was going to be dead or alive, or that situation. So I was very distraught.
And I had a pastor actually pray with me and said that he sees—don‘t worry, that he saw angels watching over her, she will be all right. Just go back. And I had a peace of the holy spirit come over me. And literally, I had no worries at that time. I was OK with whatever it was going to be. To lose her would be tough, but I know that God has a purpose in this. And one of the purposes he has taught me through this is to slow down. Life is about family, friendship, friends, about my wife, about our relationships.
Not at the end of my life, do I say, how much time did I want to spend at the office? It‘s, how much more time do I want to be with my wife and kids?
And our church, Life Church in Mission Viejo, the people pulled together. And you can‘t even believe the amount of support we had from them, from our friends. That‘s really what did allow us to get through it, because, without that kind of support and without the support of James, there‘s no way I could have done it.
NORVILLE: Do you feel differently about yourself, having gone through this and survived, Anne?
HJELLE: I do. It has changed my perspective in many ways.
Even today we went to Coney Island and there was a man who—I‘m not sure what—he was deformed in some way. I‘m not sure how to explain it. But he smiled at me and stuck out his hand to shake my hand. And I think that normally people have a tendency in this society to—you see someone who is different and you might look at them because your eye is drawn to them, but you turn away because you‘re thinking, oh, I don‘t want them to feel bad.
But, really, they feel invisible. And I thought—I wondered today if that was something that I would have done, to shake his hand and to talk to him before. But it has helped me to be more empathetic I guess towards others and to really realize that, like I said before, that beauty comes from within and just to give people the chance and get past maybe our differences and be able to connect on a human level.
NORVILLE: That‘s a beautiful message. It‘s an incredible story.
Anne Hjelle, thank so much for being here to share it with us.
James Poindexter, thank you as well.
We wish you both well and I hope we will get a chance to visit again in the future.
HJELLE: Thank you.
NORVILLE: Good luck to you both.
POINDEXTER: Thank you very much.
NORVILLE: We will be right back.
NORVILLE: We love to hear from you, so send us your ideas and comments to us at NORVILLE@MSNBC.com. While there, you will see some of your e-mails posted on our Web page at NORVILLE.MSNBC.com. You can also sign up for our newsletter there. And we have got a link to you for Anne Hjelle‘s Web site, so you can keep up with her progress.
That‘s our program for tonight. Thanks for watching. I‘m Deborah Norville.
Tomorrow, the creators of the best-selling book series “Left Behind,” they will join me to discuss the apocalyptic and to some very controversial series of books. Do they see the books as fiction or prophecy?
Also tomorrow night, author Maureen Orth on her new book all about being famous, why it isn‘t exactly what it used to be. People like Paris Hilton, Omarosa, even Scott Peterson are all celebrities now. And Bill Rancic, the winner of “The Apprentice,” will talk about what‘s it‘s been like for him to go from obscurity to fame in an instant.
That‘s our show for tonight. Coming up next, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY” with Joe Scarborough.
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