Rangers and wardens were posted at the entrances to Whiting Ranch Wilderness, keeping hikers and bikers out of the zig-zag ridge country while trackers scoured the area to be sure that they’d killed the perpetrator of yesterdays attacks. I stopped to talk to Rangers Cathy and Laurie who were posted at the gate next to Concourse Park. Cathy told me that flowers have been left at the Borrego Creek entrance to the wilderness area. From our conversation, I was able to reconstruct what probably happened.
The biker had stopped along side the Cactus Trail which runs through the northeast corner of the park. I’ve often seen lion tracks while hiking along this and the North Pond Trail which parallels it: they come for the water. Another biker reported that he’d seen the fellow trying to fix his bike along a woody section. He offered to help, but the guy said he had the situation under control. The other biker went on.
One thing that we know from past experience is that you should never crouch in the presence of a mountain lion:
In Nepal, a researcher studying tigers and leopards watched the big cats kill cattle and domestic water buffalo while ignoring humans standing nearby. He surmised that a human standing up is just not the right shape for a cat’s prey. On the other hand, a person squatting or bending over looks a lot like a four-legged prey animal. If you’re in mountain lion country, avoid squatting, crouching or bending over, even when picking up children.
(See Living with California Mountain Lions by the California Division of Fish and Game)
What trackers found at the scene of the first kill was the body and the bike. The bike was standing on its kick stand with a broken chain. The vegetation around the kill was relatively undisturbed. What seems to have happened was that the lion sneaked up on the fellow while he was trying to fix his bike.
The other victim bumbled into the area following the attack while in the company of another biker. In this second case, the lion appears to have been defending its kill. I asked the ranger about her status: she sustained injuries to her scalp, her neck, and her face. She will require plastic surgery. The friend who beat off the attack was not physically injured. More than a few people have said that the friend is the kind of person that they would like to have hiking or biking with them.
The second disastrous encounter seems unavoidable. The first, on the other hand, stresses a rule that trail bikers riding through lion country should heed: if your bike breaks down, walk it out to a safe place before attempting repairs. If you meet someone stranded along a trail like this, either stay with them while they finish or, better, help them get their equipment out of the danger zone.
I do not mean to disparage either the victim or the fellow who failed to stop. Though my conjectures are based on information we already knew, I have not seen this advice specifically mentioned in trail guides for bikers. Those who are involved in trail biking groups should undertake to educate their fellows and consider the ways in which bikers might be in danger from lions and how they should act in the presence of lions.
We can and will learn from this. My sincere condolences to the family of the victim, to the woman who was mauled, and the two survivors of the incidents.
Results of the necropsy are still pending. The lion was a big boy, weighing about 110 pounds.
Whiting Ranch is closed for the weekend. It will reopen on Monday. I will go down there to see what I can see.
In an unrelated development, a female mountain lion was killed about six miles away from the Whiting Ranch attack near the entrance to Black Star Canyon. She was hit by a motor vehicle. The two incidents are not related.
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