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 Sunday, 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 care and she was released to her parents. Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office deputies and Santa Clara County Fire Department 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 will be able to test the DNA of any mountain lion it is able to capture to ensure it matches the samples found on the girl's clothing.
If the mountain lion is found, it will be up to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to decide what to do with it, according to Leigh Ann Gessner, spokesperson for the open space district.
It's too early to say what would happen to the lion if it is captured, Tognazzini said. Typically, if an animal is proven to pose a threat to the public, it is killed, he said, but until that is confirmed, the lion would be kept in a caged environment and treated well.
To track mountain lion movement, rangers from the open space district have set up multiple trail cameras to capture images of wildlife in the area, he said. On Monday night, there were no photographs of mountain lions taken. He said that his department would continue the search at least through Wednesday, Feb. 19, but ultimately it will be up to the open space district to decide when Rancho San Antonio will be reopened.
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, Tognazzini said.
This story contains 812 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a subscriber, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Subscriptions start at $5 per month and may be cancelled at any time.