Sacramento lab to help identify cougar that attacked boy

The clothing of a 6-year-old boy who was attacked by a mountain lion Sunday afternoon in Santa Clara County is being analyzed in Sacramento in an attempt to identify the animal responsible for the aggressive behavior.

The mountain lion attacked the boy near Cupertino and began dragging him away before his father and another man made enough noise to drive the animal off, authorities said.

The boy suffered bite wounds and scratches on his head and neck from the attack, which was reported about 1 p.m. at a hiking trail in an open space preserve, said Lt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The boy is expected to survive. He was released Monday from the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, according to the hospital.

The youngster was among two families hiking on the Zinfandel Trail in the Picchetti Ranch area of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. The boy was walking only 10 feet in front of the others when a mountain lion jumped from a hiding position and attacked him.

The cat firmly bit the boy’s head and neck and began dragging him into the brush.

The two men ran toward the lion, shouting aggressively, Foy said. The cat let the boy go and ran off.

Researchers found evidence that the lion – the focus of an intense search on Monday – followed the group back to their vehicles after the attack.

The search party of three men and dogs tracked it in an area of oak woodland and chaparral that is populated with deer.

The last time a mountain lion attacked a human was in July 2012 in Nevada County. State trackers spent six days searching for that cougar but never found it.

“It is going to take a lot of luck to find this lion,” Foy said.

The boy’s clothing has been brought to the department’s Wildlife Forensics Laboratory in Natomas. There, experts will attempt to isolate DNA in the lion’s saliva from the bite puncture marks on the child’s shirt.

“Once we get the DNA identification from the mountain lion, that will allow us to positively identify a lion we would hope to find in the field,” Foy said.

Also, if game wardens kill the lion, they will scrape the claws and try to find the boy’s DNA. That also will ensure that the right lion has been found.

In the Nevada County case, DNA from the lion on the man’s shirt revealed that the attacking animal was a female. On the sixth day of the hunt for the animal, a lion was trapped in a tree by dogs, but the trackers walked away because they could see by its size that it was a male.

However, Foy said, “if we can find a lion in the immediate vicinity, there is a very high probability that you have the right lion.”

There were 13 verified mountain lion attacks in California between 1986 and 2013. Three resulted in deaths, including a woman jogging in the Auburn State Recreation Area in 1994.

A week after the woman’s death, trackers shot and killed the animal believed to have attacked her.