The search is on for a mountain lion that apparently mauled a homeless man in Perris over the weekend in what wildlife officials described as a "very, very rare" attack on a human.
The 50-year-old man was taken to the hospital about 8 a.m. Saturday with major puncture wounds, cuts and bite marks at the base of his skull — injuries that were described as being consistent with a mountain lion attack.
"We're pretty confident in our assessment of the animal that attacked him is a lion. That's something we don't take lightly," said Lt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
If confirmed, the incident would be the 15th verified lion attack on a human in California since 1986.
It will be several days before the man, who is expected to survive, will be well enough to speak with investigators about the incident, Foy said.
The man was in a homeless encampment in a field near Navajo Drive and California 74 when the attack occurred. He walked to the nearest residence to call 911 Saturday morning, but because much of the blood on his body had dried, investigators believe he may have been attacked Friday.
"It was incredible, that that amount of blood could accumulate in the sleeping bag and this guy could still be alive," Foy said.
That the attack occurred at all is rare, especially considering the "very unique attack scenario," Foy said. The area is noisy, with a steady flow of traffic on California 74, and a shopping center and residences nearby, he said, adding that officials were unable to use hounds to track the lion because of the location.
A helicopter with heat-seeking capabilities flew in concentric circles and detected coyotes and house cats, but there was no sign of a lion. Traps were set and officials maintained a 24-hour presence in the area.
The area was cleared of the traps by Monday morning and reopened to the public.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department, meanwhile, is publicizing the attack and asking anyone who sees the lion to call 911.
Because mountain lion attacks are so infrequent, it is unclear what motivated the animal, Foy said. When looking for prey, they generally chose smaller, singular targets, Foy said.
The last fatal attack was in January 2004 in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County, when a 35-year-old man riding a bike was killed. In July 2012, a 63-year-old man survived an attack in Nevada County.
Officials advised residents to keep their pets inside and children nearby. Foy also suggested that parents attach a whistle to children's backpacks so it is easily accessible if they need to scare an animal or call for help.
If the mountain lion believed to be responsible for the Perris attack is found, wildlife officials plan to kill it in the interest of public safety. Mountain lions cannot be relocated because they either return or cause deadly conflicts with other lions that are already in the relocation area, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.