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Officials Find No Sign of Mountain Lions : Decision Due Next Week on Reopening Caspers Wilderness Park

Times Staff Writer

Not a single mountain lion paw print--adult or kitten--has been found on the hiking trails or campgrounds of Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park since a mountain lion attacked a 5-year-old girl there March 23, a park official said Thursday.

“We have swept the trails and camp areas with rakes” so new tracks would be seen easily, “and nothing has showed up,” said Tony Gimbrone, supervisor of wilderness and natural parks for the Orange County Parks District.

He said a decision will be made next week on whether to reopen the park, about eight miles east of San Juan Capistrano.

“Each day that goes by with no prints and no sightings makes us more confident” that no more cougars are hunting in the 7,500-acre park, and especially not in the Bell Canyon sector, he said.

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Suffered Brain Damage

The park has been closed since Laura Michele Small of El Toro, hiking with her family along Bell Canyon Creek, was grabbed by the head and pulled into the underbrush by a mountain lion. She suffered face cuts and puncture wounds in her skull, and attendants at Mission Community Hospital in Mission Viejo said brain damage apparently had caused some paralysis on her right side.

Her father, Donald Small, said Thursday that she has been taken from the intensive care unit to pediatrics. He said that she is regaining some movement in her right arm and leg and that her badly cut right eye “probably can be saved, but we don’t know how much vision she’ll have.”

“She also has a speech problem; she can’t really talk to us,” he said. “We still don’t know what she knows about the attack.”

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Another hiker, Gregory Ysais, beat the lion away with a tree branch, and on the following day professional trackers and hounds treed the animal less than a mile from the scene of the attack. A tranquilizer dart failed to subdue the cat and it was shot to death.

No Explanation for Attack

Examinations of the carcass failed to explain why the mountain lion would attack a human in daylight. State Department of Fish and Game biologists and other experts have said that cougars generally hunt at night, are very rarely sighted by humans, and that the park and nearby mountains and canyons offer abundant natural game for the big predators.

Dr. Nila Kelly, an Orange County veterinarian, said Thursday that while the preliminary examinations indicated the animal was healthy, microscopic tests of brain and other tissues won’t be completed for about another week.

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“It is possible that something like a brain tumor or an endocrine problem could show up, indicating some imbalance that could cause abnormal behavior,” she said.


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