Mountain lion killed after charging group

Associated Press, 01/01/98 23:29

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. (AP) - Aggressive mountain lions forced authorities to ban children from a wilderness park in this Southern California town for 11 years.

Now, just two weeks after that ban was lifted, a hissing, snarling mountain lion circled within an arm's length of a group of women and children.

A warden shot the lion dead the same day, after some 75 park visitors had been evacuated.

``We have to decide if this is going to be a park for children to play in or a park for mountain lions - the two are not compatible,'' said Orange County Supervisor Charles Smith, adding that he will try to reinstate the ban on children at the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park.

No one was injured when the female mountain lion circled the group last Sunday. The lion retreated after one of the women tossed a child's hiking boot at it.

Ranger John Gannaway said it was the first such incident at the 7,600-acre park since a cougar mauled two small children there in 1986, resulting in severe injuries to one child, a lawsuit and a $1.5 million damage award against the county. The park was later closed to minors and only reopened Dec. 16.

``It's pretty scary,'' Gannaway said. ``I think it's very ironic with the timing. It's been 11 years since anything remotely close to this has happened.''

County Supervisor Tom Wilson, who voted to reopen the park, said the incident hasn't changed his mind.

``It is just a coincidence,'' Wilson said. ``There aren't any more sightings in Caspers than there are in other wilderness areas. You can't close a wilderness area to animals or to people. They can coexist.''

The lion's body was sent to a state laboratory to be tested for disease or some sign of physiological problems that could account for its behavior.

A brief examination of the animal when it was shot showed that it was physically fit, well nourished, had no signs of disease or injury and was not producing milk. Protection of cubs has often been cited as a reason for aggressiveness among female lions.

c.1997 Globe Newspaper Company

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