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2 cougars shot dead after man is mauled

January 26, 2007|From the Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Game wardens shot and killed two mountain lions after a 70-year-old man was mauled while hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, officials said Thursday.

The man, identified as Jim Hamm of Fortuna, Calif., was hiking with his wife Wednesday afternoon when he was attacked by a single lion, said Maury Morningstar, supervising ranger.

Officials said Hamm's wife, Nell, 55, probably saved her injured husband's life by beating the animal with a thick tree branch and stabbing it with a pen until it released its grip.

"The wife said she didn't see the lion until she heard her husband, and when she turned around the lion was attacking her husband," Morningstar said.

Jim Hamm underwent surgery for cuts on his head and body at Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata, Calif., said Steve Martarano, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

He was in fair condition Thursday, a hospital spokesman said.

Officials had closed the park and released hounds to track the cougar.

One lion, a female, was shot with a rifle Wednesday night. The other, a male, was killed Thursday morning, said Rick Banko, a Fish and Game warden. Their carcasses were flown to a state forensics lab in Rancho Cordova to determine whether either animal had mauled the man, he said.

Based on their weight of between 70 and 100 pounds, officials believe the lions were relatively young.

The incident took place about 320 miles north of San Francisco; it was the 16th mountain lion attack reported to the state since 1890.

It was the first attack since three people were injured, one of them fatally, in separate incidents in Orange and Tulare counties in 2004, Martarano said.

Since 1990, the 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions estimated to be in California have been protected from hunting, although residents can get permits to shoot a lion if it is perceived as a danger to people, pets or livestock.

Sightings of the animals have increased in the last decade as housing has spread into their habitats, but attacks are relatively rare because mountain lions tend to be wary of people, said Karen Kovaks, a senior wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish and Game.

"For the most part, their natural inclination is to go the other way when humans are around," Kovaks said.

The park was reopened to the public Thursday after the second lion was killed, Banko said.

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