NEVADA CITY, Calif. — Trackers spent Sunday and Monday unsuccessfully “scouring the area” where a mountain lion attacked a camper near the Yuba River early Sunday morning.
The 63-year-old man, who is from Marin County, was alone at the time of the attack, said state Department of Fish and Game spokesman Mike Taugher.
“He knows the area well,” Taugher said. “He had a hike planned, but it got late, and he decided to spend the night.”
The man, who was not being identified, spread a sleeping bag out on a tributary to the Yuba River, northwest of Nevada City. Nevada City is roughly an hour west of Truckee.
At approximately 1 a.m., the man told authorities, he was attacked in his sleeping bag for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. He said the mountain lion attacked, bit and clawed him through his sleeping bag, biting through the cap he was wearing and his clothes.
“He was in a mummy bag,” Taugher said. “He tried as best he could to defend himself.”
The animal ceased the attack, looked at him from 15 feet away for another 15-30 seconds, then ran off, according to a Fish and Game news release. The man drove himself to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and later released.
Fish and Game wardens responded at the hospital and verified the man had suffered severe scratches and puncture wounds. They collected several articles of clothing and his sleeping bag, which were analyzed at the department’s wildlife forensics laboratory in Sacramento.
Wardens also responded to the attack scene, where they found lion tracks. Specially trained dogs attempted to track the lion, but were not successful. They also found the remains of one domestic cat with injuries consistent with a lion attack.
“We do have personnel scouring the area with dogs, looking for the scent,” said Warden Patrick Foy. “They haven’t been able to get a strong enough scent to pursue the lion.”
Mountain lion attacks in California are rare, with only 15 verified incidents since 1890. Of those, six were reported as fatalities, although two were due to rabies contracted from the attack. Close to home, runner Barbara Schoener was killed on the American River Canyon trail near Coloma in 1994. The most recent verified non-fatal attack was in Humboldt County in 2007.
It is precisely because such incidents are uncommon that it is difficult to extrapolate a reason for Sunday’s attack, Taugher said.
“There’s not a lot of data to go on,” he said. “It has occurred in the past that they have attacked people in sleeping bags.”
Mountain lions are unpredictable, Foy added.
“Sometimes they can stick by their last kill, and sometimes they will run miles and miles away,” he said. “People should exercise normal precautions, but just be a little more alert.”
Fish and Game recommends not hiking, biking, or jogging alone, and avoiding hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active — dawn, dusk, and at night. If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look larger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children. If attacked, fight back.