Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in southern Orange County, closed since March 23 when a mountain lion attacked a 5-year-old girl, will reopen Monday, but with warning signs and daily monitoring, park officials said Wednesday.
The decision was reached after a lengthy meeting between county and state Department of Fish and Game personnel.
Paul Carey, executive assistant to Supervisor Thomas F. Riley, whose district includes the park about eight miles northeast of San Juan Capistrano, said, “It was felt that Caspers is not any more dangerous than any other park in a wilderness area,” although tracks of another mountain lion were found Monday not far from where the child was mauled.
Grounds to Be Monitored
He said the trails and campgrounds will be monitored daily; pamphlets will be printed advising hikers and campers of precautionary measures, and warning signs will be put in place.
Harold J. Krizan, director of the county Parks and Recreation Department, said the discovery of the new tracks this week was discussed at the meeting “and it was concluded that (their appearance) was a natural event in such a wilderness environment.”
“The existence of such tracks, under the circumstances, should not be a source of worry,” he said. The state Department of Fish and Game and the county Animal Control Department “have pledged full cooperation and assistance if there are future sightings of mountain lions.”
Krizan said the pamphlets “will remind visitors that the park is a wilderness” where potentially dangerous animals might be encountered, along with some poisonous plants and rugged terrain.
The lion that attacked and seriously injured Laura Michele Small of El Toro was tracked by professional hunters the next day. Attempts to tranquilize the cat failed, and it was shot to death. Examinations of the carcass showed it was healthy, and wildlife authorities have not been able to explain why it attacked a person in daylight when it is known that the big cats are shy of humans and the park has sufficient natural game.
Laura, who suffered extensive head injuries, including puncture wounds of the skull, was said Wednesday to be steadily improving at Mission Community Hospital in Mission Viejo.
Earlier this week, the state Fish and Game Commission tentatively decided to continue for one year a 14-year-old ban on sport hunting of mountain lions. A final decision is expected April 15.