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Mountain lion killed after mauling 5-year-old in Santa Monica Mountains

A motion sensor camera captures an adult female mountain lion in the Verdugos Mountains in 2016.
A motion sensor camera captures an adult female mountain lion in the Verdugos Mountains in 2016.
(U.S. National Park Service via Associated Press)

Hearing deathly cries in her frontyard, the mother rushed outside to face a scene of terror and a life-or-death decision.

A mountain lion was mauling her 5-year-old son in front of her.

Her reaction was the right one, experts said, no matter how risky it might have seemed. She attacked the 65-pound animal, striking it with her bare hands, until it withdrew.

Her decisiveness saved the boy’s life, but he was still in grave danger, mauled on his head, neck and torso, authorities said. She and her husband, whose identities have been withheld, carried him into their car and drove to a hospital near their home in the unincorporated Monte Nido neighborhood in the Santa Monica Mountains.

From there, he was transferred to Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, authorities said. He was stable Saturday.

As rumors of the Thursday morning attack spread through nearby communities of Malibu and Calabasas, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife kept silent while piecing together what happened.

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The investigation concluded Saturday when a rabies test proved negative, said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Patrick Foy.

In its report, the agency confirmed that a juvenile male mountain lion later shot and killed by a wildlife agent was the animal that attacked the boy. The cougar was an offspring of the female known as P-54, whose life has been celebrated from birth through her own delivery of three cubs who were later presumed to have died.

In an interview, Foy detailed a second drama in which wildlife agents killed the offending mountain lion, tranquilized and released its brother and identified P-54 as their mother.

Learning of the attack from the hospital, the agency dispatched Lt. Jacob Coombs to the site. He interviewed the mother who had returned from the hospital to be with her other son.

With his patrol rifle in hand, Coombs searched the property and soon saw a mountain lion crouched in some shrubs, Foy said. He shot and killed it.

As he was gathering forensic evidence from the carcass, he noticed two other lions looking at him, Foy said. One was wearing a radio collar.

Coombs “didn’t want to just start killing,” Foy said.

So Coombs went back to his vehicle to get a tranquilizer gun.

He also called the boy’s mother to ask if the lion that mauled her son had a collar, Foy said. She said it did not, eliminating that lion as the attacker.

He shot a dart into the animal that did not have a collar, Foy said. It took Coombs and another agent an hour and a half to find the animal where it had fallen. They caged it and took it to a facility.

At the same time, another agent was sent to the hospital to take samples from the boy, Foy said.

Agents then drove samples from the two lions and the boy to the agency’s Wildlife Forensic Laboratory in Sacramento.

The analysis, completed Friday, found DNA from only one animal in the boy’s wounds and matched it to the dead cougar.

By then the National Park Service, which tracks mountain lions, had determined that the third lion was P-54 and that she had moved far, deep into the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Her surviving cub, having been cleared of involvement in the attack, was collared, christened P-97 and released near where P-54 was tracked.

Foy acknowledged that the agency would probably be criticized not only for releasing one sibling but also for killing the other.

“There is much angst with people who are furious that we killed the mountain lion responsible for attacking that boy,” Foy said.

He said the officer made the right decision to kill the cougar.

“It was trying to kill and eat that child, unfortunately,” Foy said. “Many members of the public don’t want to ever think of a human being as a prey item. It does happen sometimes.”

It is also rare. Foy said there have been four validated mountain lion attacks in California since 2019.

Ana Beatriz Cholo, a spokeswoman for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said Thursday’s attack was the first in the region’s mountains in the 20 years the agency has been studying the cougar population.

Cholo said residents and people hiking in the mountains should be aware that they could encounter cougars and should know what to do.

“Do not turn around and run away,” she said. “Keep kids close by. Put them on your shoulders. Try to look bigger than you are. If it doesn’t work and the mountain lion doesn’t leave, you need to be more assertive.”

Cholo credited the boy’s mother for taking the right action.

“She fought back,” she said. “She used her bare hands. If you have a rock or stick, use that.”


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