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Mountain lion attacks and injures child in Orange County wilderness park

Mountain lion
Police killed a mountain lion that had taken a backpack up a tree. The father of the child who was attacked had used a backpack to distract the big cat.
(California Fish and Wildlife Department)

A mountain lion attacked a 3-year-old boy Monday afternoon at a wilderness park in Lake Forest in Orange County. Shortly after, a sheriff’s deputy killed a mountain lion in the vicinity.

The child suffered neck injuries and abrasions, but his injuries are not thought to be life-threatening. Authorities feel confident they killed the right cat because it was in a tree along with the backpack the boy’s father threw at it.

The child was attacked at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, suffering injuries consistent with an attack from a mountain lion, said Capt. Patrick Foy of the California Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Division.

The child was taken to Mission Hospital and is reported in stable condition, said Capt. Tony Bommarito of the Orange County Fire Authority.

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A picture of what happened has emerged from various official accounts.

Two adults and four children were hiking about 4 p.m. when the lion attacked. The lion was reported to have singled out the child, Foy said.

The lion apparently seized the boy by the neck, creating puncture wounds, and started to drag him away. The child suffered abrasions from being dragged along the ground.

The boy’s father threw a backpack at the big cat and the cat released the child and grabbed the backpack. Someone later took a picture of the cat with the backpack in a tree.

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“Due to the threat to public safety,” deputies received authorization from the Fish and Wildlife Department to kill the lion, said Carrie Braun of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. The animal was killed about 5:20 p.m.

Officials immediately evacuated the park, getting the word out by loudspeaker from a Sheriff’s Department helicopter. The park will remain closed until further notice.

Attacks by mountain lions are infrequent, but can be deadly.

ME.0109.mark.reynolds.HO.jpg
Handout photo of Mark Jeffrey Reynolds, who died after being attacked by a mountain lion in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in January 2003.
(OSM Sports Marketing)

In January 2004, also in Whiting Ranch, a mountain lion killed avid biker Mark Reynolds, 35, of Foothill Ranch. He apparently was crouched over, fixing his bike, when the animal attacked. Experts at the time said a cat will sometimes interpret a crouching animal as a sign of weakness. Reynolds was probably in greater danger because he was alone.

The cat partially buried Reynolds, another common behavior with prey.

The same cat then attacked another biker, possibly because she unknowingly came near Reynolds’ body. A friend and other bikers pried her away from the cat, which was later killed.

Reynolds was the first person killed by a mountain lion in California since 1994.

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Children can be another potential target in these rare attacks.

In May, 2019, authorities killed a mountain lion that attacked a 4-year-old boy at the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve in San Diego.

The child had been with a group of about a dozen people in an area known as Carson’s Crossing when the cat attacked in midafternoon. Witnesses said the boy’s father kicked the large animal and threw a rock to scare it away.

In the 1980s, two children were injured in separate attacks by mountain lions in Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in Orange County.

Pets and livestock are generally more frequent targets.

In 2017, a San Mateo County homeowner woke up to find that a mountain lion had apparently entered through partially open French doors and snatched her dog from the bedroom where she and her child were sleeping.

A mountain lion in Modoc County in 2018 specialized in killing horses.

In December, a gaunt mountain lion attacked two dogs in Simi Valley, killing a miniature Schnauzer. Later that month, a lion began killing goats in that area.

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Authorities are reluctant to euthanize a mountain lion if it is behaving in a natural manner unless it poses a threat to humans. Sometimes experts will relocate an animal as an alternative measure.


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