Wildlife officers and forensics scientists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have concluded their investigation of the mountain lion attack at the Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve in San Diego County. A complete mountain lion genetic profile was obtained from the samples collected from the young boy who was attacked on Memorial Day, which was found to be identical to the profile obtained from the mountain lion killed the day of the incident. This DNA analysis conclusively proves the mountain lion is the exact one that attacked the victim.
On Monday, May 27, in the afternoon, wildlife officers responded to the park where the four-year-old boy was being treated by San Diego Fire-Rescue after sustaining a non-life-threatening injury consistent with a mountain lion attack. The boy was part of a group of 11 people recreating in the park at the time.
The wildlife officers identified mountain lion tracks at the scene. Very shortly thereafter and in the same area, a mountain lion approached the officers. The lion appeared to have little fear of humans, which is abnormal behavior for a mountain lion. The wildlife officers immediately killed the animal to ensure public safety and to collect forensic evidence to potentially match the mountain lion to the victim. The officers collected clothing and other samples from the boy. Those samples, plus scrapings from underneath the mountain lion’s claws, were sent to the CDFW Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Sacramento for DNA analysis.
Mountain lions usually don’t have much interest in taking down people. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website: “Statistically speaking, a person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion.”
Statewide since 1986, there have been 15 verified attacks (including the recent one in San Diego County), and three of them fatal, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Before this May 2019 attack, there have been no reports of any mountain lion attacks since 2014.
Mostly, the animals prefer to stay out of sight in the wilderness, consuming deer and smaller wildlife after employing their stalk-and-ambush hunting technique. But maulings do occur.
The state’s last fatality that involved a mountain lion was in January 2004 at Orange County’s Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Mountain biker Mark Reynolds, 35, was the victim, but it is unknown if he was attacked by the lion or if he was on the ground for another reason, such as a heart attack, and the mountain lion dragged him away as prey.
California Outdoors: Questions and answers
Here are some questions asked to CDFW regarding mountain lions:
Question: My dad has game cameras to photograph wildlife that travel through his property in Mendocino, and they regularly capture photos of mountain lions. Recently he looked out his window and saw three lions traveling together. A game camera caught separate images of each cat as they passed by. I’m wondering why three mountain lions might travel together, when generally I thought of them as more independent. Also, do you think the first one looks pregnant?
Answer: This might seem unusual, but what you’re probably seeing is an adult female lion and her two nearly grown “cubs” that are getting ready to disperse. Youngsters stick with their parents until they’re a year-and-a-half to two years old. By that time, they can weigh more than 100 pounds (and are often larger than the mother).
We couldn’t definitively determine whether the lion in the photo is pregnant without a hands-on examination. A cat can eat a lot in one feeding, and its stomach will protrude. She may have just been very full.
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Question: I live on a farm in the hills of Vacaville. If I witness a mountain lion chasing and devouring one of my goats in my herd, can I shoot and kill it on the spot? How about if I am walking on a remote trail with my dog and a mountain lion attacks my dog, can I shoot it to defend my dog?
Answer: Mountain lions are specially protected in California (Fish and Game Code, section 4800). In 1990, California voters passed Proposition 117, an initiative that made it illegal to kill mountain lions except under very limited circumstances. However, if you witness a mountain lion attacking your livestock or pets, or if the mountain lion threatens you directly and poses an immediate physical threat to you, you have the right to defend yourself and your animals.
According to Fish and Game Code, section 4807(a): “Any mountain lion that is encountered while in the act of pursuing, inflicting injury to, or killing livestock, or domestic animals, may be taken immediately by the owner of the property or the owner’s employee or agent. The taking shall be reported within 72 hours to the department. The department shall investigate the depredation, and, if the mountain lion was captured, injured, or killed, the mountain lion or the entire carcass of the mountain lion that has been recovered shall be turned over to the department. Upon satisfactorily completing the investigation and receiving the mountain lion or carcass, if recovered, the department shall issue a permit confirming the requirements of this section have been met with respect to the particular mountain lion taken under these circumstances.”
While mountain lions can pose a significant threat to people, pets, and livestock when natural prey species cannot be found, for the most part lions want nothing to do with us. Mountain lions are typically shy and stealthy and very few people will ever have the opportunity to see one in the wild.
For more information, please check out CDFW’s Keep Me Wild.