PITTSBORO — They are calling it the worst animal attack in the 14-year history of Chatham County's Carnivore Preservation Trust.
Last Sunday, a cougar mauled a volunteer who was cleaning the animal's cage. Now out of the hospital, the victim discussed the frightening experience.
Mark Kostich says the attack lasted about four minutes, but it seemed like an hour. Kostich, a volunteer at the Trust, was cleaning the cougar cage when 160-pound "Cooper" pounced on him.
"I can remember the weight of his body," Kostich said. "I remember his jaws were tremendously powerful. I can remember the evil sounds, the crunching and the feeling of his jaws. I couldn't move at all."
A co-worker hit the cougar with a metal rod. Another volunteer pulled Kostich out. Kostich says he is not upset with anyone, but hopes the incident is used to help prevent it from happening again.
Cooper is still in his cage where the attack happened at the Carnivore Preservation Trust. The staff is reviewing the incident and if changes are necessary, they say they will make them.
The Trust says everyone who goes into the cages receives extensive training that helps workers react to a dangerous situation.
"In this particular case, thankfully, that's exactly what happened." says Steve Brechbiel of the Carnivore Preservation Trust. "Everybody reacted exactly the way they needed to, and spared this from becoming a truly tragic situation."
For the first time since the attack, Kostich came back to see Cooper, from outside the cage.
"He's a beautiful creature," Kostich said. "I still love him to death. I'm just not going to visit him as much."
Animal experts say the incident is a reminder that just because an animal is captive, it doesn't mean it's not wild. Kostich says he will never go in the cage with a cougar again.