For one dad, what had been a pleasant picnic in California’s scenic Santa Clara County on Sunday quickly turned into a father’s worst nightmare after a mountain lion attacked his six-year-old son. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), the man and his son—who were not identified—were part of a group of 10 people hiking the Picchetti Ranch Zinfanderl Trail. The hikers later informed authorities that the boy was no more than 10 feet ahead of the group when the mountain lion appeared from the bushes and jumped towards the child. DFW officer Pat Foy told NBC News that the predator bit the boy in the neck and head, “as if he were a deer.”
With a firm hold on the struggling child, the cougar then proceeded to drag him into the brush. Witnesses said the boy’s father and another man rushed in after the mountain lion while shouting loudly. The cat eventually relinquished its hold on the boy and fled, allowing the father to carry his son to safety. Although the attack had stopped just short of being tragic, bystanders who saw the pair emerge from the trail described the lacerations around the boy’s head and neck as severe.
“My first thought was, ‘Wow, he must have tumbled down a ravine’ because he was pretty bloody,” Shawn Ardaiz, who was walking near the area, told the San Jose Mercury News. “But after a while, I heard about the mountain lion.”
The child was transported to Valley Medical Center in San Jose where it was determined that while serious, the wounds were not life-threatening. The boy was later released.
Park rangers have closed off a section of Picchetti Ranch Zinfanderl Trail and DFW wardens were dispatched into the area to hunt down the cougar. Officials were especially alarmed when the search team found evidence that the mountain lion had stalked the boy’s family all the way back to their vehicles.
“It’s a matter of public safety,” Foy said. “Even after the attack, the tracker did find evidence to suggest that the lion actually followed the family back down to their car when they were trying to get the child to safety. That’s indicative of extreme, dangerous behavior.”
Armed with rifles and tranquilizers and accompanied by search dogs, two state wardens and a tracker slept overnight on the trail Sunday night. As of Tuesday morning, the team has still found no mountain lions in the area. If they do, the animal will be tranquilized and tested against the DNA samples left on the victim’s shirt. If there is a match, the cougar will be euthanized.
“Mountain lions are present throughout California, but attacks on humans are extremely rare,” the DFW stated.
There have been 13 confirmed mountain lion attacks in California since 1986. Of these, three have been fatal.
Image courtesy California Department of Fish and Wildlife