Bleeding and flat on the ground, Chris Baker tried to play dead in hopes the huge bison that had just gored him would lose interest and wander off.
The animal sniffed, snorted and stood over Baker before finally trotting off. Baker pulled himself to his feet and staggered along a trail near Tower Peak on Catalina Island, looking for help.
He eventually ran into three off-duty firefighters who called paramedics. Baker, 43, was later airlifted to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he remains in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery.
The details of Baker’s way-too-close encounter with the bison on Wednesday were described by the man’s mother, who credited the firefighters with saving her son’s life.
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An earlier version of this post spelled Elaine Garan’s last name as Ganar.
“He would not have made it back if he hadn’t miraculously ran into the firefighters,” Elaine Garan said. “They were amazing; they helped him and called the paramedics.
“He would have been a goner,” she added.
Garan said the bison broke at least six of her son’s ribs and punctured a lung.
Contrary to previous reports, Baker, who founded American Conservation Experience, a nonprofit organization that focuses on environmental projects, was not taking photos of the bison before the attack but was surveying the area for the creation of trails on the island, according to his mother and a spokeswoman for ACE.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department said it responded to the island about 8:30 a.m. Wednesday after receiving a report of a person being “gored by a buffalo,” said Chris Reade, a department inspector.
Reade said bison attacks on the island are rare.
In 2007, a 24-year-old man suffered a fractured pelvic bone when he was attacked by a bison, part of a herd of 15 that charged a group of hikers. And in 2012, a 9-year-old boy was struck by a bison that was spooked by sightseers near Little Harbor. The boy suffered a minor stomach injury.
The American bison is not native to Catalina Island. A herd of about 14 were brought to the island in 1924 to act as a backdrop to a silent film. Several more were brought to the island to help increase genetic variation, according to the Catalina Island Conservancy.
The bison help generate tourism on the island and have been embraced by residents.
“We see them all the time,” Reade said. “They’re usually not aggressive.”
Most often they come across as being lazy, but the temperament of bison can be unpredictable.
“They’re real stubborn,” Reade said. “You honk at ‘em. They don’t move. Then you just go around them.”
The conservancy uses contraception to keep the island’s bison population at 150, although the herd has recently dropped to an estimated 135.
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