Mountain lions may be “perfect killing machines” — as described by wildlife biologist and author Jim Williams — but they usually don’t have much interest in taking down people.
“Statistically speaking, a person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife website.
There have been four attacks in Orange County since 1986, one of them fatal. In that time period, there was a single non-fatal attack in Los Angeles County and none in the Inland Empire.
Statewide since 1986, there were 14 verified attacks, and three of them fatal, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has no record of any attacks since 2014. Over the same 28-year span, the state saw three fatal snake bites and seven fatal shark attacks.
In Orange and Riverside counties, the animals roam the Santa Ana Mountains and occasionally wander into urbanized areas. Notable were lion sightings in Tustin in July 2017, including video of the cat caught on security cameras outside Stater Brothers grocery on Redhill Avenue.
Mostly, the animals prefer to stay out of sight in the wilderness, dining on deer and smaller wildlife after employing their stalk-and-ambush hunting technique. But maulings do occur.
The state’s last fatal attack was in January 2004 at Orange County’s Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park.
Mountain biker Mark Reynolds, 35, found himself with a broken bike chain and is believed to have been crouching by his bike, which would have made him a more attractive target for attack.
A 110-pound animal pounced and killed Reynolds, dragged him away from the trail and partially buried him as is customary for lions hiding caught prey.
Later that afternoon, Anne Hjelle was biking through the area and was attacked by the same lion, possibly because the animal felt she was a threat to his previous catch. Hjelle, with help from other bikers throwing rocks at the cat, escaped with her life but with significant injuries.
The animal was located, shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies hours later.
Those who encounter mountain lions shouldn’t crouch or run, but rather should wave their hands, shout and try to appear as large as possible, according to handouts from OC Parks.
Small children should be picked up and put on the adults’ shoulders. If the animal advances aggressively, throwing rocks at it is encouraged. Hiking in groups is recommended.
Mountain lion attacks are rare, with California’s last fatality 14 years ago