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Cougar Mauls Woman on Hike

Friends fight off the mountain lion in Giant Sequoia Monument, but the victim loses her eye and suffers deep gashes in her thigh.

June 28, 2004|Erika Hayasaki | Times Staff Writer

A small mountain lion mauled a Santa Monica woman who was hiking Saturday in the Johnsondale Bridge area of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, north of Kernville, the California Department of Fish and Game said Sunday.

Emergency workers transported Shannon Parker, 27, to UCLA Medical Center in Westwood on Sunday morning from Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield. She lost her right eye and was treated for deep gashes in her right thigh, said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for Fish and Game. At the family's request, a hospital spokeswoman would not release details about Parker's condition.

Parker was hiking at 7 p.m. Saturday, about 15 to 20 miles north of Kernville, with her boyfriend, Mathias D. Maciejewski, 28, and two friends, Jason Quirino, 30, and Ben Aaron Marsh, 15, Martarano said.

She left the group to retrieve a pair of sunglasses from a vehicle parked nearby. A few minutes later, her hiking partners heard screams. They found Parker struggling with the 60- to 70-pound lion. One of the men stabbed it several times with a knife, and they threw rocks at it, Martarano said. Injured and bloody, the cougar let go of Parker and left the scene. Parker's friends were not hurt, and the lion was later found and killed.

This was the 15th lion attack reported in California since 1890, Martarano said. Six of those victims were killed. The most recent attack occurred in January in Orange County's Santa Ana Mountains, where a man was killed while repairing his bike in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. Another mountain biker was also attacked by the lion but survived.

People have spotted the wild animals in recent months in Los Angeles' Griffith Park and Oak Canyon Community Park in Ventura County.

Walter Boyce, a cougar expert and director of the Wildlife Health Center at UC Davis, said Parker was lucky she had friends with her. Experts recommend that hikers travel in groups because "in the rare chance an attack occurs, having someone with you gives them the opportunity to help you or go for help," Boyce said. "It's a good thing three people were with her to fight the lion off."

Roxanne Moster, a spokeswoman for UCLA Medical Center said, "This is an extremely traumatic time for [the family]," and they were not ready to talk to the media.

An hour after the attack, U.S. Forest Service officers shot and killed the female lion, which looked skinny and sickly, said Martarano. Boyce said most female lions weigh at least 80 pounds.

Fish and Game will transport the lion to a lab in Rancho Cordova on Monday to test it for diseases. An illness, Martarano said, may explain the lion's aggressive behavior.

"They generally don't attack people," Martarano said. "It could have been a lot of factors ... but just because a lion is skinny, or even hungry, doesn't mean it's going to attack people. Disease could be a factor. Humans are not their typical prey, and there were deer around."

Boyce said researchers are still trying to find out what triggers cougars to attack people.

"The vast majority of the time, lions don't think of people as prey," he said. "It's truly unfortunate this happened, and I think it's also unfortunate that it will probably continue to happen. At this point we really don't have a good solution to prevent attacks."

Mountain lions prey mostly on deer, as well as bighorn sheep and elk, according to UC Davis Wildlife Health Center data. They usually hunt alone and at night. There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions in California.

The Sequoia National Forest area where the attack occurred was the site of a 2002 wildfire, which burned more than 150,000 acres over four months. The region is now recovering, Martarano said, with foliage and shrubbery in full bloom. Deer are roaming again, attracting lions. He said residents have reported a few cougar sightings, but no reports of aggressive behavior.

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