SAN DIEGO (AP) — Wildlife officers killed a mountain lion in a San Diego County nature preserve and will try to determine if it was the animal that injured a 4-year-old boy during a group hike a few hours earlier, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday.
The boy was hospitalized following the Monday afternoon attack and treated for head injuries that were not life-threatening, Fish and Wildlife Lt. Scott Bringman told a press conference.
The boy was part of a group of six adults and five children in Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve, a 3,700-acre (1,497-hectare) strip of nature meandering through residential tracts about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of downtown San Diego.
The boy was in the middle of the group, which scattered at the time of the attack, Fish and Wildlife Lt. Scott Bringman told a press conference.
“The father, who should be commended, he threw rocks and the animal left the scene,” Bringman said.
The suspected mountain lion attack was reported to Fish and Wildlife by San Diego Fire-Rescue around 3 p.m. and officers who responded identified mountain lion tracks at the scene.
“While they were at the scene the mountain lion came to the location about 7 o’clock at night,” Bringman said. “The animal did not appear to be scared of the wardens, which is an indication the animal is habituated, so at that point in time the animal was euthanized.”
The mountain lion, described as an 80-pound (36.3-kilogram) adult female, will be tested for DNA from the victim. The boy’s clothing and bandages will be tested for DNA from the lion. The tests will be conducted at a wildlife forensics laboratory in Sacramento.
“Hopefully, we do have the animal which did attack the kid,” Bringman said.
The preserve will remain closed until results of the test are completed, likely within a few days.
Bringman said the last mountain lion attack on a person in San Diego County occurred more than 20 years ago.
“It’s extremely rare,” he said, noting that the animals are present but are rarely seen.
The boy was extremely lucky because an 80-pound lion can really do damage, Bringman said.
“Luckily the dad was there and fended off the animal,” he said.
Children have previously been attacked by Southern California’s lions. Two well-known incidents occurred in 1986 at Ronald W. Caspers Regional Park in Orange County. A 5-year-old girl, Laura Small, was mauled that March and a 6-year-old boy, Justin Mellon, was grabbed by a lion the following October. He was rescued by his father, who used a hunting knife to drive the animal away.
Southern California mountain lions increasingly live in areas where urban sprawl has encroached. Still, they are rarely seen by people.
The lions move constantly and each has a large home range. With some regularity they are killed by traffic as they try to cross freeways, and they also face such threats as rodent poisons and inbreeding due to being hemmed in by development.