A large cougar rushes a 3-year-old child, crouches into the attack position and, just as it is about to leap upon the unsuspecting infant, his father drives the animal away by shouting and charging it with a stick.
That was the scenario Sunday afternoon in the San Diego wilderness. An Arizona family was hiking in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The child was fortunate. His father acted correctly. The mountain lion, an 83-pound female, was tracked and killed early Monday morning.
But with camping season beginning in earnest this month, and encounters between cougars and humans making news with alarming regularity, some might be having second thoughts about whether to risk venturing into the wilderness.
Despite recent sightings and encounters--and notably the death late last month of a jogger running alone on a remote Northern California trail--experts say the chances of crossing paths with a mountain lion are still slim.
"Seeing a wild lion . . . that's still an unusual event," said Terry Mansfield, chief of wildlife management division for the Department of Fish and Game. "I've been in woods, either working and hunting or whatever for well over 35 years, and on only three occasions have I ever seen a lion that I wasn't tracking for research purposes."
Still, wildlife experts acknowledge that there is reason for concern, and the DFG offers the following advice for anyone planning a hiking or camping trip this summer:
--Do not hike alone.
--Keep a close watch on children and stay close to them.
--Do not approach a lion and if you encounter one, give it a route to escape. Most lions will try to avoid confrontation.
--Do not run from a lion as it might stimulate its instinct to chase. That's one theory as to why a lion might have attacked 40-year-old Barbara Schoener, who was killed while jogging northeast of Sacramento on April 23. Paul Beier of the Department of Forestry and Resource Management at UC Berkeley documented attacks in Canada and the United States in the last 100 years. Beier's report stated that in only one "credible near-attack" did a victim actually appear to benefit from running. "A 16-year-old boy fled after encountering a cougar at 25 feet," the report said. "The cougar was gaining ground rapidly when the boy's boot fell off and the cougar attacked and ate the boot." If you have small children, pick them up so they don't panic and run. Do not turn your back on the lion.
--Do not crouch down or bend over. One researcher, basing his studies on tigers and leopards, found that people crouching might look more like a cat's natural prey than a person standing up.
--Do all you can to appear larger and make a lot of noise. Raise your arms, open your jacket, throw rocks or sticks, and yell.
--Finally, fight back if attacked. The father using a stick to protect his son in San Diego wasn't the first to discourage a lion from attacking. Others have used stones, garden tools and even bare hands to ward of an attack. And if there is an encounter, report it to authorities as soon as possible.
SALTWATER FISHING--What a few white seabass won't do for business. The popular game fish started showing in sizable schools off Santa Catalina Island last Friday, and now overnight boats are carrying full loads. One-fish limits are still the rule, but then many feel the chance of catching even one 30-pound white seabass is preferable to reeling in listless rockfish.
Cabo San Lucas: Some reported multiple catches of striped marlin a few miles out off Cabo Real, but fishing remains slower than normal for stripers. Remarkably, some of the best fishing is taking place on the beaches. Surf fishermen are reportedly reeling in sierra mackerel, jack crevalle, amberjack, pargo and even small yellowfin tuna.
San Jose Del Cabo: Smooth seas are making for an easy trip to Vinorama, where an excellent yellowfin tuna bite is in progress. Anglers have posted double figures of fish from football-size to 30 pounds. Marlin fishing is fair.
East Cape: The best place for striped marlin, with boats averaging at least one per day. Roosterfish action is picking up along the beaches. Most unusual catch: a 400-pound sunfish by members of a group from Colorado.
San Diego long-range: Anglers aboard the Vagabond, fishing at San Benitos, returned to Point Loma Sportfishing on Sunday with 141 yellowtail to 31 pounds and sacks full of rockfish and calico bass.
CALENDAR--Penn Fishing University is holding a free seminar on lingcod, halibut and shallow water rockfish tonight from 7-9 p.m. at Sports Chalet in West Hills. Ronnie Kovach and Fred Benko are the featured speakers. Details: (818) 710-0999. . . . The annual Spring Boat Show at Fairplex Park in Pomona will be held May 14-22. Hours are 1-9 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. . . . Volunteers are needed for the annual Disabled Kid's Fishing Day at Santa Ana River Lakes on May 20 from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Santa Ana River Lakes. Details: (714) 632-7851.