Lion kills man, attacks woman in California

Deputies shoot 1 cougar, close park indefinitely

January 10, 2004|By Christine Hanley and Mike Anton | Christine Hanley and Mike Anton,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES - When the chain broke on Mark Reynolds' mountain bike, he found himself in the worst possible place - near a stalking mountain lion in the rugged Orange County, Calif., foothills. Then, authorities said yesterday, Reynolds crouched to fix his bike, a posture that likely spurred the lion to attack.

Reynolds, 35, of Foothill Ranch, Calif., was disemboweled by the 110-pound male cougar and dragged from the popular trail in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park on Thursday. His body went undetected for up to 12 hours.

Thursday afternoon, the cougar, protective of its partially buried prey, mauled another biker who rode by.

Anne Hjelle, 30, of Santa Ana, Calif., was rescued by her riding companion and other trail bikers as she was being dragged by the head into some brush. She remained hospitalized in serious condition yesterday.

Two Orange County sheriff's deputies shot and killed a 2-year-old mountain lion late Thursday after trackers in helicopters using infrared scopes spotted the cat stalking the deputies. Its paw prints matched those near the scene of the attacks, officials said.

State game wardens are taking no chances. For the time being, deputies will patrol the rugged park and shoot any mountain lion they encounter in the Whiting Ranch area, which has been closed to the public indefinitely.

Later Thursday night, a 70-pound female lion was killed by a car about four miles away, but officials believe the animal was not involved in the attacks.

Wildlife experts estimate there are between 4,000 and 6,000 adult mountain lions in California, including about a half a dozen in the Whiting Ranch park area.

Attacks, though, are rare: Five people have been killed in California by mountain lions in the past century, and Reynolds is the first fatality since 1994.

"Often [cougars] are reclusive and don't want to be seen," said Doug Updike, a senior wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game. "It's very abnormal behavior. You're more likely to be struck by lightning."

He pointed out, though, that Reynolds was alone when he was attacked - as are nearly all victims of mountain lion mauling. And he was likely crouching - a posture, Updike said, that can convey weakness to a stalking cat.

Mountain lion experts say that while the animals generally stay away from humans, they are more likely to attack shapes that appear small, such as a person in a crouched position.

To a cougar, the difference between a person bent over fixing a bicycle and a small animal may be indistinguishable.

Staff writers Mai Tran and David Mckibben contributed to this article. The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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