Possible lion attack

California Department of Fish and Wildlife officer Nick Molsberry looks for evidence of a mountain lion attack at a homeless encampment near California 74 and Navajo Road in Perris. (Andrew Hughan / California Department of Fish and Wildlife / February 3, 2014)

Wildlife officials will not be able to interview a homeless man who was apparently attacked by a mountain lion in Perris for at least five more days, state wildlife officials said Wednesday.

The 48-year-old man is stable but still in very serious condition after suffering lacerations, puncture wounds and bite marks at the base of his skull, said Lt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"We're still trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together, and the biggest piece of the puzzle is trying to talk to him," Foy said.

Officials are also awaiting test results on saliva pulled from clothing the man was wearing at the time of the incident, which could conclusively confirm the attack was by a mountain lion, Foy said. 

If confirmed, the incident would be the 15th verified lion attack on humans in California since 1986, according to the department. The last fatal attack was in January 2004 in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County. In July 2012, a 63-year-old man survived a lion attack in Nevada County. 

While the aggressive search for the animal is over, officials are maintaining a 24-hour presence in the area so they can respond to any reports of the animal, Foy said. 

"Any time this kind of thing hits the media, from house cats to yellow Labradors, they think it's a lion," he said, adding that the department is following up on any leads called in to the Riverside County Sheriff's Department.

The victim was taken to the hospital about 8 a.m. Saturday with injuries described as being consistent with a mountain lion attack.

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 on Saturday morning, but because much of the blood on his body had dried, investigators believe he may have been attacked Friday. 

Law enforcement officers and biologists scoured the area but were unable to locate the animal. A helicopter with heat-seeking capabilities searched the area and baited traps were set, but were pulled back in by Monday morning.  

The probability of catching the animal with traps was low, Foy said, and the effectiveness of tracking the animal with a helicopter decreases after a day or two.

The lion will be killed in the interest of public safety if it is found, he said. Forensic evidence will also be collected to match it to the victim, if possible.

Mountain lions cannot be relocated because they can cause deadly conflicts with other lions already in the area, and sometimes the relocated lion returns, according to the department.    

This is the first such incident to happen in the Perris area, and attacks on humans are “very, very rare,” Foy said.

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