Mountain Lion Killed by Warden After Hikers Have ‘Terrifying’ Encounter

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State wildlife officers shot and killed a young mountain lion that stalked a 5-year-old boy on a hike with his mother in an Orange County park where a cougar killed a mountain biker a decade ago, authorities said Tuesday.


A flyer posted at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park warned about the sighting of a mountain lion that was killed by a wildlife warden after the animal acted aggressively on March 30, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

The 1-year-old, 60-pound male mountain lion began “acting aggressively and fixating” on the boy when the Mission Viejo family encountered the animal on the Borrego Trail in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

After the family called police, game wardens responded. The mountain lion was found in the same area, and it acted aggressively toward the warden as well, CDFW Assistant Chief of Enforcement Dan Sforza said.

“I really thought that we were going to die,” said mother Madison Smith.

Smith was hiking with her 7-year-old daughter Lucy and son Jackson, 5, when the mountain lion approached, she said.

“We heard some rustling in the bushes, and it just kept getting louder and louder,” Smith said. “Eventually, the mountain lion pounced on the trail.

“My daughter saw it first and she got very excited and said ‘kitty’ and jumped up and down … It was incredibly terrifying.”


Joe Fleischaker and Madison Smith were confronted by a mountain lion in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park. (Credit: KTLA)

Another hiker, Joe Fleischaker, was nearby and moved in between the mountain lion and the family. Wielding a stick, Fleischaker said he began to try to scare away the animal, which he described as “ears back, hissing.”

“I moved Jackson behind me, and when the cat saw Jackson move, he got back into his pounce position and started coming at me,” Fleischaker said.

The mountain lion proceeded to come back at the group several more times as Fleischaker tried to scare it away and stay between the family and the children — for about 30 minutes.

Finally, two mountain bikers came by and frightened the animal into the bushes, Fleischaker said.

His efforts to get the puma to move away sounded appropriate, Sforza said.

“If you do see a lion or … if you’re confronted by a lion, you don’t want to run,” Sforza said. “It stimulates that predator-prey response. What you want to do is back out, don’t run, make yourself as large as possible, pick up any kids, throw rocks.”


Mountain lion warnings are posted at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in February 2014 warned about recent a mountain lion sighting. A wildlife warned killed an “aggressive” mountain lion in the park on March 30, 2014. (Credit: KTLA)

The mountain lion was killed Sunday after officers determined “it was a threat to public safety,” the fish and wildlife department stated in a news release.

It was unusual for the animal to be spotted in the afternoon, and then be seen again after the encounter with the family, Sforza said. The young animal may have been sick or have become separated from his mother, he said.

The park is the site where a mountain lion fatally mauled one mountain biker and attacked another cyclist in 2004 — the most recent fatal attack by a puma in California, according to state data.

That lion was also killed by authorities.

In February, hikers had been warned about a mountain lion in the park, which is in southern Orange County in the Santa Ana Mountain foothills (map). Signs were posted telling those venturing into the wilderness to be alert.

Early last month, the famed Griffith Park mountain lion, dubbed P-22, was spotted on surveillance video strolling through the residential streets of the Hollywood Hills. Around the same time, police in Fontana conducted an unsuccessful armed search for a mountain lion after a homeowner said a puma killed his 100-pound German shepherd.

KTLA’s Christina Pascucci contributed to this article.