(Reuters) – A local sheriff’s deputy has killed the mountain lion that attacked and wounded a 3-year-old child in a Southern California wilderness park before the boy’s father chased the cougar off, state wildlife officials said on Tuesday.
The man told authorities that he and his family of six were hiking on a trail at the Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County on Monday when the cougar pounced, said Captain Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“A mountain lion came out of a tree and attacked his son right in front of him,” Foy said. The cougar latched on to the boy with its jaws, and the man shouted aggressively and lunged at the predator.
The man then threw his backpack at the cougar, Foy said, which let go of the boy and fled up a tree with the pack in its mouth, he said.
The boy sustained claw and bite wounds to his torso and neck and was treated and released from a hospital, Foy said.
Wildlife officials tracked the lion, and a deputy with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office shot and killed the animal, authorities said.
DNA samples taken from the dead animal and the victim confirmed that it was the cougar that attacked the child, Foy said.
Members of the boy’s family, who did not want to be publicly identified, said in a statement read at a news conference that “our little boy is fine” and that the family “will be back on the trail soon.”
Foy said that mountain lion attacks on humans were “extraordinarily rare,” noting that just 16 cougar attacks on people had been documented in California in the past 100 years.
Three of those were fatal, including one deadly attack at the same park. The park remained closed until further notice, officials said.
California has a mountain lion population of about 4,000 to 6,000, Foy added.
(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; editing by Dan Whitcomb and Peter Cooney)