Toddler Released From Hospital After Confirmed Mountain Lion Attack at O.C. Wilderness Park

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A 3-year-old boy who was injured when a mountain lion attacked him at a wilderness park in Lake Forest has been released from the hospital, authorities said Tuesday.

A mountain lion is seen carrying a backpack in Whiting Ranch on Jan. 20, 2020. (Credit: Orange County Sheriff's Department)
A mountain lion is seen carrying a backpack in Whiting Ranch on Jan. 20, 2020. (Credit: Orange County Sheriff’s Department)

The little boy is doing OK despite sustaining “significant  trauma” — both physical and emotional — after the incident at Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife Capt. Patrick Foy.

DNA evidence confirmed a cougar was responsible for the attack, Foy announced at a news conference Tuesday. The animal has been euthanized.

Around 4:10 p.m. Monday, the young victim was out on a hike with his parents and three other children at the park, located along Glenn Ranch Road, when a mountain lion jumped from a tree and attacked him about a mile from the parking lot, according to Foy.

Fortunately for the family, the boy’s father had studied how to respond to emergencies in the wild and knew what to do. He began shouting aggressively at the big cat and charged at it, Foy said.

That animal became startled and let go of the toddler.  When the cougar assumed a defensive posture, the man threw a backpack at it, prompting it to scurry back up into a tree.

The victim survived the frightening encounter but suffered “severe wounds to the neck.” He was transported in stable condition to a local hospital and discharged later that night, Foy said.

Wildlife officials arrived soon after and tracked down the cougar, which was still in a tree and carrying the backpack.

The mountain lion was euthanized “due to the public safety threat,” the Orange County Fire Authority tweeted. The animal died close to the tree.

Swabs were taken from both the boy’s wounds and the puma for DNA analysis, which later came back as a match.

Officials shut down the park after the incident was reported. It remained closed Tuesday afternoon, but is expected to reopen Wednesday, officials said.

Monday’s incident was the first attack at the park involving a cougar since January 2004, when two were reported, according to state Fish and Wildlife records.

A 35-year-old man was killed in one, while the other injured a 30-year-old woman.

In general, mountain lion attacks are rare in California, with records showing about 16 recorded incidents in the past 100 years in the state, according to Foy.

“The statistics will tell you that driving to the park to go on your hike is far more risky than your risk of being attacked by a mountain lion once you get there,” he said.

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