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Mountain Lion and Cub Caught at Park : Believed Different From One That Mauled Girl in Same Area

July 07, 1986|MARIA L. LaGANGA | Times Staff Writer

A female mountain lion and her cub were captured at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in Orange County after a search by wardens from the state Department of Fish and Game, a department official said Sunday.

The cougars were trapped early Saturday morning in the same general area where another mountain lion--believed to be the animal that mauled a 5-year-old El Toro girl in March--was later shot to death by a tracker.

The female lion captured Saturday "is not the same cat that mauled the little child some time ago," Earl Lauppe, a wildlife management supervisor for the department, said Sunday. "We are confident that that cat was the one that we (killed) at the time."

Lauppe said officials closed part of the 7,500-acre park near San Juan Capistrano on Wednesday after the mother cat and cub were spotted. Early Friday, several game wardens, biologists and park employees--aided by hounds--began their trek through the park. On Saturday, the hunters found the cougars and, after tranquilizing the mother, captured both animals, Lauppe said.

The cougars, both said to be in good condition, were sent to the Fish and Game Department's Sacramento laboratory for study.

On March 23, Laura Michelle Small and her mother, Susan, were wading in a shallow creek near the end of a nature trail in a remote section of the park, when a lion grabbed the girl by the head.

A hiker who heard cries for help drove the animal off by clubbing it with a branch. A cat believed to be the animal that attacked the child was shot to death the day after the incident, after a tranquilizer dart failed to subdue it.

Laura has undergone six operations since the attack. In addition to numerous cuts on her face and scalp, she suffered multiple small skull fractures. The left side of her brain was damaged and the right side of her body partly paralyzed.

Since the incident, the girl's parents have been troubled because they believed that the cat killed in March was not the one that attacked their daughter. The news of Saturday's capture was welcome.

"I think when we initially found out that there was a cat down there causing problems and had been seen several times and was obviously not a very shy mountain lion, we were very concerned that perhaps something would happen to some other person or child," Don Small said Sunday. "We were very glad to hear that they had captured the cat."

According to a family spokesman, the county has denied the $28-million damage claim the Smalls filed last June, in which they alleged that park officials failed to warn visitors of wildlife hazards in the park. The denial frees the family to file a civil lawsuit against the county. An additional $28-million claim has also been filed against the state, which has yet to respond.

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