This page is a complete list of all attacks that involve physical contact by mountain lions on people in California through 26 January 2007. See Mountain Lion Attacks On People in the U.S. and Canada for an introduction to this page, bibliography and abbreviation list. See also the companion page List of Mountain Lion Attacks On People in the U.S. and Canada not including California.
Deaths are highlighted in red text. There were no deaths in California from lion attacks from 1910 through 1993.
A separate page lists some encounters in California that did not involve physical contact by mountain lions on people.
This list is the same as the one maintained by the California department of Fish and Game except for the August 1993 attack.
19 June. (Attack #1, death #1). A 7-year-old boy was killed by two lions while playing among oak trees some distance from his home in Quartz Valley, Siskiyou County. (OC)
18 years with no known attacks.
5 July. (Attack #2, deaths #2 and 3). A rabid lion injured a woman and child in Morgan Hill, Santa Clara County. Both died of rabies. (OC)
76 years with no known attacks.
March. (Attack #3) A lion attacked a 5-year-old girl, Laura Small, in Caspers Regional Park, Orange County, resulting in a $2 million court judgment against Orange County. Laura remains blind in one eye and partially paralyzed. (OCR 9/29/98, OC)
October. (Attack #4) A 6-year-old boy, Justin Mellon, received minor injuries resulting from a lion attack. (OCR 9/29/98, OC)
5 years with no known attacks.
12 March. (Attack #5) A 9-year-old boy, Darron Arroyo, was attacked by a cougar as he was hiking on a trail with his two brothers in Gaviota State Park, Santa Barbara County. His father, Steven Arroyo, about a hundred yards behind the boys, heard the screams and saw the lion dragging Darron. Steven rushed toward the cougar, picked up a rock, threw it and struck the lion between the eyes. The lion dropped the boy and retreated. Darron sustained bites to the face and head and scratches to the chest. His parents sued the State of California. (MLCSP; OC; SDUT 4/15/95, A3; Santa Barbara News Press, Gaviota State Park; California Department of Fish and Game; Abundant Wildlife Society Of North America; Mountain Lion Fact Sheet by T. R. Mader, Research Director)
August. (Attack #6) A 6-year-old boy, Devin Foote, was attacked in the Manzano River area of the Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara County. This attack is not recognized by the California Department of Fish and Game because injuries were not verified by a physician, nor was the attack site investigated by an agency (MLCSP, SDUT 4/15/95, A3; LAT 4/3/95; United Conservation Alliance News 3(4):4-5, Oct. 1993; E. Lee Fitzhugh, personal communication 1/15/04)
September. (Attack #7) A young cougar bit a 10-year-old girl camping with her family at Paso Picacho Campground in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The girl was slightly injured. The mountain lion believed to have attacked the girl was tracked down and killed. (SDUT 12/11/94 A1; MLCSP)
23 April. (Attack #8, death #4) Barbara Schoener, 40, a friend of my sister and a long-distance runner in excellent physical shape, was killed by an 80-pound female mountain lion in Northern California on the American River Canyon trail in the Auburn State Recreation Area. No one observed the attack, and hence there are conflicting hypotheses about what occurred.
Barbara's husband Pete Schoener says that the lion was probably hidden on a ledge above the trail and pounced on Barbara as she passed underneath the lion. The lion knocked her down a slope and she was badly wounded, but she fought the animal with her arms before she was killed. Then the lion dragged her farther before eating most of her body.
The accounts in the paper said that investigators theorize that the lion surprised her by sneaking within 20' behind her on the tight trail and then ambushing Schoener, knocking her 30' down an 80° slope. Indications are she already was badly wounded but briefly fought the animal there before the lion finished the kill.
The trail is part of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run trail. Barbara was the first person in California in the 20th Century to die from a mountain lion attack.
The mountain lion may have been protecting its one-month-old cub by "defending" its territory against intruders, or may have "recognized" Barbara as prey because she was "running away" from the lion.
Barbara Schoener was 5' 11" and 140-150 pounds. (The papers incorrectly gave 5' 8" and 120 pounds.)
(SDUT 5/8/94, A3; 5/13/94, A3; Pete Schoener, via an email from my sister Connie Vavricek)
16 August. (Attack #9) 50-year-old Troy Winslow and his wife Robin, along with 48-year-old Kathleen Strehl, were camping in the yard of a rustic cabin near the isolated hamlet of Dos Rios in Mendocino County, when a fight broke out between their dog and a 2-year-old, 60-pound rabid female mountain lion at 4:30 a.m. The lion retreated under the cabin after they threw rocks at it. Near daybreak, the cougar attacked Kathleen, giving her four puncture wounds in the arm and knocking her to the ground. The others jumped on the cat and Robin stabbed it with a 12-inch kitchen bread knife. The cat bit off Winslow's thumb during the melee when the man grabbed the animal near its mouth. (SDUT 8/17/94, A3; OC)
10 December. (Attack #10, death #5) Iris M. Kenna, a 5-foot-4 and no more than 115 pounds, 56-year-old woman in excellent physical condition, was killed near Cuyamaca Peak at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park while hiking to Cuyamaca Peak alone in the early morning. She was attacked near the bench dedicated to her at the intersection of the Lookout Fire Road and Azalea Springs Fire Road / Fern Flat Fire Road. (SDUT 12/11/94 A1)
20 March. (Attack #11) Scott Fike, a 27-year-old cyclist, was bitten and cut by a cougar near Mount Lowe in the Angeles National Forest, on 20 March 1995, and fought the cougar off with rocks. The cougar was then tracked down and killed. (SDUT 3/25/95, A3)
8 years with no known attacks.
8 January. (Attacks #12 and 13; death #6) 35-year-old Mark Jeffrey Reynolds, an amateur mountain bike racer, was reported as being killed by a mountain lion sometime after 1:25 p.m. at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in southern Orange County. His bicycle was later found with the chain unbroken, but off the sprockets. Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff's Department, speculated that Mark was attacked as he was fixing his bike.
However, the autopsy results apparently show no damage to his neck at all, or any damage indicative of an actual attack that caused his death.
The speculation that fits the facts best is that Mark had a heart attack while riding his bike, fell off his bike, causing the chain to fall off the sprockets. The cougar then simply scavenged him while he was dead on the ground. Unfortunately, as is typically the case for lion feeding, the heart was missing, so we'll never know for sure if he did have a heart attack.
Later the same day, Anne Hjelle, 30, of Santa Ana, a former Marine who works as a fitness instructor, was jumped by the same mountain lion. Anne was attacked a short distance down the trail from Mark's body, which was not visible to her, while she was riding her mountain bicycle. The lion jumped her from a slight rise (~4 feet) on the right hand side of the trail, from under some high brush. The lion quickly had Anne's face in its mouth, despite the presence of Anne's helmet. Her riding companion, Debi Nicholls, was about 30 feet behind Anne and witnessed the attack. Debi threw her bike at the mountain lion, to no avail, then grabbed Anne's legs and screamed as the lion dragged both of them 30 feet down the slope into the brush. The lion kept attacking Anne, alternating between her helmet, face and neck. The screams brought Nils Magnuson, 33, of Long Beach, and Mike Castellano to the scene, who called 911 and scared off the mountain lion by throwing rocks at it.
Anne was airlifted to Mission Hospital. Her condition was initially critical, was upgraded from serious as of early 9 January, and to fair as of 10 January.
Nils was nearby since he had just found Mark's bicycle, and was about to look for Mark. (Mountain bikers crash fairly frequently, so finding a crashed bicycle is not an unusual occurrence. It is customary to stop and render aid to crashees.) After this attack, Mark's body was found dead higher on the trail than where Anne was attacked. Mark had apparently been dead for some hours, and his body had been half-eaten and partially buried, typical of a mountain lion kill.
Later that night, Sheriff's deputies shot and killed a healthy 3- to 4-year-old, 110-122 pound male lion, which was spotted 50 yards from the man's body. Initial tests found human skin tissue, and portions of a human lung and liver in the lion's stomach, which were confirmed later to match Mark's DNA. No fibers from Anne's clothing, nor any slivers from her helmet, were found in the initial examination, but later DNA tests matched Anne to the blood on one of the lion's claws. Curiously, no deer hairball was found in the lion.
Also that night, about four miles north of these attacks, a second mountain lion, a 70 pound female, was hit by a car and killed. This lion was not involved in either attack.
Although Whiting Ranch was closed for two days about a year earlier due to the sighting of a mountain lion and her two young cubs, the lion linked to the attacks could not have been one of those cubs, due to its age.
Eric Sanderson reports that many deer frequent Whiting Ranch, so there was a plentiful supply of the normal food resource for a cougar. Eric routinely sees a couple of deer on each of his noontime rides.
For readers not in Southern California, Whiting Ranch is in Orange County, 44 air miles southeast from the city of Los Angeles and 71 air miles north of the city of San Diego. More precisely, the park is between the city of Irvine and the Cleveland National Forest (Thomas Brothers Map #862, G5).
Franko, of Franko's Maps, has kindly provided a map of Whiting Ranch on which I have plotted the location of the attack and of the killing of the cougar.
Sources: an anonymous mountain biker (email of 2/3/04); Nils Magnuson (personal emails of 1/17/04 and 1/23/04), Eric Sanderson (personal emails of 1/10/04, 1/11/04, 1/16/04 and 1/26/04); L.A. Times, 1/27/04; 1/11/04 (online story); 1/10/04, A1, A19; an anonymous mountain bike rider (see below); Signon San Diego 1/9/04, 10:30 pm; L.A. Times 1/9/04, A1; CBS News / AP; KNBC-TV News Report, 11 pm, 1/8/04; L.A. Times; NBC News; secondhand private communications of the autopsy results.
The following information was written before I learned about the autopsy results, and hence should be read with the possibility in mind that Mark died of a heart attack, not a cougar attack:
The time of Mark's death is surprisingly uncertain. The initial report claimed he had been dead "many hours to many days", which was probably a result of the cougar partially burying the body (as pointed out by Eric Sanderson). After the body was identified, the time shifted to "noon". However a mountain bike rider (who prefers to remain anonymous) reported to me that he rode down the Cactus Hill Trail at 1:25 pm, as recorded by his bicycle computer. He talked with Nils afterward, and they both concluded that he would have seen Mark's bike if it had been there then. He has communicated this information to the coroner's office and other officials.
Unfortunately, we still don't know for sure how Mark was attacked. Although the papers reported that the bicycle chain had "broken", Nils (personal communication 1/23/04) said that the chain was intact when he found Mark's bike, with the chain simply hanging off the sprockets.
Thus it is possible that Mark's chain came off the sprockets, and he was bending down to put it back on when he was attacked. It certainly is plausible that he was attacked when he was in this position, and not easily able to defend himself after the initial lion attack.
Alternatively, the lion could have jumped Mark in the same way Anne was jumped, with the chain coming off the sprockets during the ensuing melee.
Nils Magnuson provides information that makes the second scenario more likely:The bike was standing upright, just to the right of the trail, facing slightly at an angle down the slope. On the down slope, the dirt was disrupted in two areas as if someone had taken two steps down. About 5 yards down was thick cactus. If you were standing, looking at the bike, very tall, thick bushes lined your backside.
I could speculate many different attack scenarios. The only thing I found wrong with the bike was that the chain was off. Most people simply put the chain back on and spin the cranks once, not even setting the bike off to the side of the trail. As a matter of fact, where the bike was it would be hard to put the chain back on. One could speculate that maybe the bike was lying across the trail and that someone earlier had set the bike on the side of the trail. In any case, the spot where the bike was wasn't a good place to stop. It's really narrow. I would have gone either way on the trail, about 5 yards, before doing anything to my bike.
The autopsy report might be able to distinguish between these two possibilities, but nothing has been released from the autopsy report that sheds any light on this.
A very puzzling thing about this incident is the multiple attacks. No scenario seems compelling:
- One possibility is that Anne was the first person to come by the kill afterwards, and the lion was "protecting" its kill by attacking anything that came close. However, this lion undoubtedly had seen many mountain bikers before, and I doubt it was going to keep attacking every biker that came by to "protect" its kill.
- Another possibility is that the lion was still "hyped" from the previous attack, and was still in "attack mode" when the next biker, Anne, came by, who was then attacked. This possibility becomes more likely as the time of Mark's death gets later.
- If Anne was not the first person to come by the kill afterwards, it is hard to explain why she was attacked and not anyone before her. The only explanation that comes to mind is that perhaps this mountain lion was still part of a family group, and decided to get another meal for others in that family group. (I doubt that this is normal mountain lion behavior, especially for a 3-year-old lion, but nothing seems very normal here.) Otherwise, it is hard to explain why another mountain lion was nearby, because the density of mountain lions is very low. In the entire Santa Ana range of about 10 miles by 30 miles, there are only about 20 mountain lions.
In this scenario, perhaps the lion had rested for a while, and Anne's timing was just unfortunate.
Speculations that the local mountain lion population was disturbed by the influx of outsiders from the San Diego County burn areas are unfounded. It is extremely unlikely that any mountain lions from the main burn areas in San Diego County migrated to Orange County, due to the following:
- the distance involved (Whiting Ranch is 60-80 miles from the main burn areas);
- most cougars who try to cross I-15 die (see Massive Concrete Mountain Lion Barrier Wall at Rainbow Creek on I-15); and
- most of the wildlife survived the San Diego County fires, and is still hanging around at least the perimeter of the burn areas. For example, 10 of 11 radio-collared deer survived the fires in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, one of whom was later killed by a cougar. Undoubtedly, most of the cougars in the area survived as well and are still near that location.
It is possible that the cougar density in Orange County was slightly increased after the Camp Pendleton fire, since that location is "only" 20-25 miles away. However, that fire burned only 6,892 acres, an utterly negligible amount compared to the 256,000 acres contained in an area 20 miles on a side.
Mountain lions, like any predator, do not attack prey that can harm them for fun. Attacking any animal is risky business, and predators attack only the minimum number of the easiest targets they can find, due to the risk of injury to themselves. After all, if a predator becomes disabled for hunting for any period of time, they will starve to death.
Of course, some animals do play with their victims, or even attack creatures that cannot harm them for fun. Domestic cats are the poster animals for such attacks. But I seriously doubt that most mountain lions are going to attack a deer or human for fun on a general basis, although one can never rule out such an attack by an unusual individual.
I thank an anonymous reader with good insights who helped me speculate on the causes of this multiple attack.
The speculation that Mark had a heart attack makes everything falls into place: the cougar attacked only a single human, to protect its food cache, and there is nothing unusual about the second attack anymore.
26 June. 27-year-old Shannon Parker of Santa Monica, California, was attacked by a 2-year-old male cougar at about 6:15 p.m. near the Tulare County mountain community of Johnsondale, California, about 15 to 20 miles north of Kernville. Shannon lost her right eye and suffered injuries to her other eye and deep lacerations to her right thigh.
Shannon was hiking with her boyfriend, 28-year-old Mathias Maciejewski of Los Angeles, and two other friends, Jason Quirino, 30, and Ben Aaron Marsh, 15, both of Los Angeles, on a trail near the Johnsondale Bridge, which crosses the north fork of the Kern River. The trail follows a steep, rocky area up the west side of the river. Shannon left the group to walk back toward the parking area. She was attacked at a narrow area in the trail by a perilous 100 foot precipice.
When she began to scream, the others rushed to her assistance. "They heard her scream, 'Get it off me. Get it off me,'" said Brian Naslund, acting lieutenant for Kern County with the DFG. Maciejewski used a knife to stab the mountain lion twice in the shoulder, but it had little effect, Naslund said. Quirino or Marsh went to get help while Maciejewski and the remaining hiker threw rocks at the animal. "They hit it in the head a couple of times with the rocks, it let her go," Naslund said.
The hiker who went to get help found a person in the parking area who rushed toward Johnsondale, flagging down a Forest Service ranger, said Margie Clack, a spokeswoman for Sequoia National Forest. She said Parker was fortunate help came so fast: "There's no cell phone service in that area. Sometimes we can't even get through on the Forest Service radios." There are cabins in Johnsondale used as weekend homes, but there are almost no permanent residents, stores or businesses in the area. "It's surrounded by national forest land," Clack said.
Parker was taken by ambulance that Saturday night to an airport near Lake Isabella in northeastern Kern County, where a helicopter was waiting to fly her to Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield. Doctors there stabilized her condition before sending her on to UCLA Medical Center. By the following Tuesday her condition was stable after treatment and reconstructive surgery.
The mountain lion left a trail of blood from the stabbings that had failed to discourage the attack on Shannon. From the bloody trail, Fish and Game officials and U.S. Forest Service rangers tracked the mountain lion and found him in the area several hours after the attack. "It appeared that it was still dazed from being hit in the head with rocks," Naslund said. The authorities shot and killed the lion because it was deemed a threat to public safety. The cougar's body was taken to a DFG lab near Sacramento where it tested negative for rabies but was found to weigh only 58 pounds, severely underweight for a 2-year-old which should normally weigh about 80 to 100 pounds.
Apparently not believing that humans may simply be fair game for hungry cougars, Martarano said it's unclear what prompted the mountain lion to attack. He noted that the area where the attack happened was devastated in July 2002 by the McNally wildfire, which burned more than 150,000 acres in the Sequoia and Inyo national forests and the Giant Sequoia National Monument. Although the fire greatly reduced the amount of vegetation in the steep, rocky terrain near the river where the attack took place, new growth has sprouted and attracted deer and other animals back to the burned areas, said spokeswoman Clack.
Sources: (The Fresno Bee; Tim Bragg; Hiker loses eye to big cat in Sierra Mountain lion is later killed in Tulare County; 06/28/2004) (SignOnSanDiego.com, the San Diego Union-Tribune; *Mountain lion that attacked hiker was undernourished; By Greg Risling, Associated Press; 06/28/2004)
No reported attacks.
24 January. Hiking in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park sometime before 3:00 p.m. in Humbolt County 50 miles north of Eureka in Orick, California, 70-year-old Jim Hamm was attacked by a cougar, apparently as it crept up from behind. The Fortuna, California, man was accompanied by his 65-year-old wife Nell. Both were reported as under 5'6".
According to supervising Ranger Maury Morningstar, "The wife said she didn't see the lion until she heard her husband, and when she turned around, the lion was attacking her husband."
Nell Hamm said she first saw the lion when it had her husband's head in its jaws. The lion pounced on Jim Hamm near the end of a 10-mile hike. He was trailing his wife when the big cat attacked, pinning him face down on the trail. He didn't scream, Nell said. "It was a different, horrible plea for help, and I turned around, and by then the cat had wrestled Jim to the ground."
Nell Hamm did all the right things. She approached and screamed at the lion. Then she grabbed a 4-inch-wide log and began beating it on its back. "It wouldn't let go, no matter how hard I hit it," she said.
While Jim was trying to tear at the face of the cat, Nell says, "Jim was talking to me all through this, and he said, 'I've got a pen in my pocket. Get the pen and jab him in the eye.'" "So I got the pen and tried to put it in his eye, but it didn't want to go in as easy as I thought it would." When the pen bent and became useless, Nell Hamm went back to using the log. "That lion never flinched," she said. "I just knew it was going to kill him."
Finally, Nell slammed the log butt-end into the cat's snout. The lion had ignored her until then. At last, she had its attention. With blood on it's snout from her blow, the lion let go, stepped back, an stood glaring at her with its ears pinned back. "I thought he was going to attack me," she said. She continued to scream, waving the log, and then, thankfully, the cat slipped into the ferns and disappeared.
Terrified that it might come back, Hamm told her husband that he had to get up and try to walk to the Newton B. Drury Parkway, parallel to U.S. Highway 101, to find help. He was losing blood quickly. "Somehow we made it out of there," she said.
About a quarter-mile away, they came upon an inmate work crew with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Eureka Reporter newspaper reported this crew found the man bleeding around 4 p.m. The four men went for help. As a result, the California Department of Forestry dispatched an ambulance from Arcata, which took the couple to the Mad River Community Hospital. State Park employees also responded. Jim Hamm underwent surgery for serious lacerations to his head, legs, arms, and hands.
The Eureka paper said the park is a popular recreational area and offers hiking, nature study, wildlife viewing, beach combing, and picnicking. In the past three years mountain lion sightings have increased on the nearby Humboldt State University campus. In early November, a young male mountain lion weighing approximately 80 pounds was captured and tranquilized on campus.
The Hamms are healthy, athletic people. They play sports, scuba dive and run. Since they moved to Fortuna from Camarillo two years ago, they have hiked the trails in Humboldt County, clocking 6 to 12 miles, two to three times a week. Neither of them is large; both are under 5 feet 6 inches. But they had talked about what to do in case of a mountain lion attack: Scream, look big, fight back. "We fought harder than we ever have to save his life, and we fought together," she said. Both plan to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next month (February, 2007).
Despite their long history of hiking, it was too early for her to say if they'd ever venture out again. "It's not like Jim and I are saying, 'Don't go in the forest,' " she said. "Go in the forest like you'd go scuba diving in the ocean. Respect where you are."
Nell Hamm especially warned people never to hike in the backcountry alone. Park rangers told the couple if Jim Hamm had been alone, he probably would not have survived. Her husband still faces a struggle. Cat bites and scratches can lead to serious infections, and doctors are giving him intravenous antibiotics. They've also started a series of rabies shots. The Hamms are thankful to the emergency personnel, rangers, wardens, doctors and nurses who helped them through the ordeal.
Subsequent to this attack two mountain lions were killed near the trail in the area. One lion was shot with a rifle that night, the other was killed the next morning, said Fish and Game Warden Rick Banko. Their carcasses were flown to a state forensics lab in Rancho Cordova to determine if either animal mauled the man, he said. Based on their weight of between 70 and 100 pounds, officials think the lions were relatively young.
Sources: (NBC11.com/San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland; Wife Saves Husband From Mountain Lion; 01/25/2007) (Yahoo! News; Mountain lion attacks hiker in Calif.; Lisa Leff, Associated Press Writer; Thu Jan 25, 11:03 PM ET) (CNN.com; Woman, 65, saves husband from mountain lion; AP; January 25, 2007) (The Eureka Reporter; Man Attacked By Mountain Lion; by Christine Bensen-Messinger; 1/25/2007) (The Times-Standard; 'I knew it was going to kill him'; John Driscoll/The Times-Standard; 01/26/2007)
I thank Linda Lewis for allowing me to reproduce her writeups of the 2004 and 2007 attacks.
Copyright © 1999-2007 by Tom Chester.
Permission is freely granted to reproduce any or all of this page as long as credit is given to me at this source:
Comments and feedback: Tom Chester
Updated 12 November 2007.