UPDATE: Days after a mountain lion grabbed a 6-year-old girl at Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, the attacking animal has been found and euthanized, wildlife officials said Thursday, Feb. 20.
The popular preserve is set to reopen to the public on Friday. Feb. 21.
DNA testing showed that the animal, a female weighing 60-70 pounds and estimated to be between 2 and 4 years old, was the same one that attacked a child walking on a preserve trail Sunday, Feb. 16, said Jordan Traverso, spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The preserve, located in Cupertino and Los Altos, was closed while Fish and Wildlife and rangers from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District – the agency that operates the preserve – looked for the mountain lion.
According to Todd Tognazzini, a law enforcement captain with California's Department of Fish and Wildlife, the girl was walking with adults on Wildcat Loop Trail – a name that now carries a "strange irony," he said.
The group was about 2 miles from the main parking area around 10 a.m. on Feb. 16, when the mountain lion, hiding in some bushes, attacked the girl, Tognazzini said.
She had two puncture wounds and a scratch on her calf, injuries that suggest the mountain lion grabbed, rather than bit her, he said.
Almost immediately, the nearest adult, a friend of the girl's father, sprang into action, pushing the lion off of her so forcefully he fell down and skinned his knee.
A district ranger gave the child first aid and she was released to her parents. Santa Clara County Sheriff's deputies and Santa Clara County Fire paramedics also responded.
Such attacks, Tognazzini said, are extremely rare – there have been only 18 mountain lion attacks on humans in the last century, he said, and three fatalities related to mountain lion attacks during that time, two in 1994 and one in 2004.
The most recent mountain lion attack, he said, occurred last month when a mountain lion grabbed a 3-year-old boy in Orange County by the head. The attack was fended off, the boy was hospitalized, and the lion, which remained in the area after the attack, was killed by public safety officers.
There's no theory yet as to why the Rancho San Antonio incident occurred, Tognazzini said. It was late morning and there were lots of people on the trail, uncommon conditions for an attack, he said.
In August, the park was closed for over a week due to a number of sightings of a mountain lion and her cubs.
Mountain lions live throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains. They generally are not a threat to people, and encounters like Sunday's are unusual, rangers said. Nevertheless, park visitors should remain vigilant when in mountain lion territory.
Finding the mountain lion that attacked the girl, and ensuring it is the correct animal, is a complex task, Tognazzini said. After the attack, the Department of Fish and Wildlife collected DNA samples from the girl's clothing and from medical supplies used to treat her wound. The samples were tested in the department's forensics lab, and were confirmed to contain mountain lion DNA.
The department found the lion in a tree on Wednesday, Feb. 19, sedated it and tested its DNA, finding that it was a match with the samples found on the girl's clothing, said Traverso. The lion was humanely euthanized by CDFW staff for public safety purposes.
"CDFW is actively engaged in mountain lion conservation across the state. However, public safety is a top priority. We made the decision to euthanize the lion because it was confirmed to have attacked a human," Traverso said in an email.
To track mountain lion movement, rangers from the open space district had set up multiple trail cameras to capture images of wildlife in the area, he said.
Mountain lions are typically most active at dawn, dusk, and at night, according to the MROSD website, which recommends people avoid hiking or jogging at those times.
In addition, the open space district recommends that people stay alert; avoid hiking, biking or jogging alone; keep a close watch on small children; and do not wear headphones.
If people see a mountain lion in the wild, Tognazzini said, they should make themselves big, not run away, draw children close and make loud noises.
While dogs are not permitted at Rancho San Antonio, he added, people should keep their dogs on leashes in other parks where they are permitted, as the incidence of mountain lions attacking or eating dogs is far higher than mountain lion attacks on humans. People are far more likely to die in a car crash heading to an open space or rural area than they are of a mountain lion attack while there, he said.