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Hunt continues for mountain lion that mauled sleeping hiker

The mountain lion attacked the victim, 63, in the Sierra Nevada foothills northwest of Nevada City, Calif. The man was treated and released from a Grass Valley hospital.

July 03, 2012|By Bettina Boxall, Los Angeles Times

The hunt continued Monday for a mountain lion that over the weekend mauled a sleeping hiker in the Sierra Nevada foothills northwest of Nevada City, Calif.

The victim, 63, was treated for puncture and scratch wounds and released from a Grass Valley hospital. It was only the 15th confirmed mountain lion attack on a human in California since 1890.

The Bay Area man, who asked authorities not to release his identity, was driving to a trail head for the start of a hiking trip when he decided to spend the night under the stars at a spot he knew on a tributary of the Yuba River. He unfurled his sleeping bag, fell asleep and woke up about 1 a.m. Sunday to the open jaws of a mountain lion.

The hiker told California Department of Fish and Game wardens that the attack lasted 11/2 to 2 minutes. The animal bit him through his sleeping bag and cap, tore his scalp and scratched his back. The lion then walked away and briefly looked back before disappearing into the night.

The man, who was alone, drove himself to the hospital.

Mountain lions' primary prey are deer, which they usually kill by breaking the animal's neck or suffocating it by crushing the windpipe with a jaw hold. If lions find sleeping prey, they will go after it, said fish and game warden Patrick Foy. But he added that he had never heard of a lion attacking a person in this manner.

There have been lion attacks on pets and livestock in the area — the remains of a domestic cat were found near the campsite — but no reported encounters with people, Foy said.

There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions in the state and confirmed attacks on humans are rare, although they have become more frequent in recent decades as more people move into their territory.

Of the 15 verified attacks in more than a century, about half have occurred in Southern California. Statewide, six have been fatal, the last occurring in Orange County's Whiting Ranch Regional Park in 2004.

Before last weekend, the most recent attack was in 2007, when a 70-year-old man was mauled in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County.

A team of state wardens and a federal wildlife tracker with dogs expect to be back in the field at dawn Tuesday for their third day of hunting for the animal. If it is found, it will be killed "in the interest of public safety," Foy said.

DNA analysis of the animal's traces on the hiker's sleeping bag and clothing revealed that it is a female.

The Fish and Game Department advises people not to run if they encounter a mountain lion. Rather, they should face the animal, make noise, wave their arms and throw rocks. If attacked, fight back.

bettina.boxall@latimes.com

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