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Wife Clubs Mountain Lion That Attacked Husband

January 26, 2007 NBC4 TV LA

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- Wildlife officials on Thursday 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.

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"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.

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 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.

He told his wife he still wants to make the trip to New Zealand they planned for their anniversary, she said.

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.

The Eureka Reporter newspaper reported an inmate from the California Department of Foresty and Fire Protection found the man bleeding around 4 p.m.

The inmate contacted authorities.

One lion was shot with a rifle Wednesday night, the other was killed Thursday morning, said Fish and Game Warden Rick Banko.

Their carcasses were flown to a state forensics lab in Rancho Cordova to determine if either animal mauled the man, he said.

Based on their weight of between 70 and 100 pounds, officials think the lions were relatively young.

The park is 50 miles north of Eureka in Orick.

The paper said the park is a popular recreational area and offers hiking, nature study, wildlife viewing, beach combing and picnicking.

In the past three years mountain lion sightings have increased on the nearby Humboldt State University campus.

In early November, a young male mountain lion weighing approximately 80 pounds was captured and tranquilized on campus.

This was the 16th mountain lion attack reported in California since 1890.

It was the first attack since three people were injured, one of them fatally, in separate incidents in Orange and Tulare counties in 2004, Martarano said.

Since 1990, the 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions estimated to be in California have been protected from hunting, although residents can get special permits to shoot a lion if it is perceived as a danger to people, pets or livestock.

Sightings of the animals have increased in the past decade as housing has spread into their habitat, but attacks are relatively rare since mountain lions tend to be wary of people, said Karen Kovaks, a senior wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

"For the most part, their natural inclination is to go the other way when humans are around," Kovaks said. "This was atypical because this person was with somebody. Usually they attack someone who is alone."

The park was reopened to the public Thursday after the second lion was killed, Banko said.


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