The woman “had to physically remove the lion’s paws from her son’s face,” sheriff’s office spokesman Alex Burchetta told People.
The mountain lion injured the boy’s face, head and neck. The boy’s father was driving him to the hospital and called 911 shortly before 8 p.m.
Aspen Valley Hospital reported that the child was in fair condition and has since been transferred to a hospital in Denver, authorities said. His mother has been released from the hospital, KMGH reported.
Mountain lion sightings have increased in Colorado, “likely due to a growing human population encroaching on lion habitat in conjunction with a robust lion population in the state,” according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Lion attacks on humans are rare, according to CPW, with “fewer than a dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years.”
“Most of the attacks were by young lions, perhaps forced out to hunt on their own and not yet living in established areas,” according to the agency. “Young lions may key in on easy prey, like pets and small children.”
Since 1991, there have been three fatal mountain lion attacks on humans in Colorado, KMGH reported.
The last known incident in which a lion attacked a human in Colorado was in July 2015, when a young lion attacked a man who was fishing, according to CPW. That small, yearling male lion was tracked by officials and killed.
After the attack Friday, “the mother was able to accurately describe to deputies where the mountain lion had attacked her son,” the sheriff’s office said. Witnesses reported seeing two lions in the area before the attack.
Investigators spotted a 2-year-old male mountain lion nearby and killed it, CPW officials said. USDA’s Wildlife Services and CPW are tracking the second mountain lion, with plans to put it down.
Investigators will examine any lions suspected in the attack that have been tracked and killed.
The generally calm and elusive animals are mostly solitary, according to the National Park Service. Males can grow to 200 pounds and eight feet in length, including their tails.
The park service advises people to go in groups when traveling through “lion country” and to keep children close by.
“If you see a lion, stop and do not run. Maintain eye contact and do all you can to appear larger,” the Park Service advises. “Speak calmly to the lion in a firm, calm voice. If attacked, fight back. Lions have been known to be driven away by prey that fights back.”