You might spot a mountain lion in California, but attacks like the one that killed a man are rare

Mar 26, 2024, 1:12 PM

LOS ANGELES (AP) — If hikers, bikers, campers, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts haven’t encountered a mountain lion while in the California wilderness, they might know somebody who has.

The big cats that can weigh more than 150 pounds (68 kg) live in diverse habitats across the state, including inland forests, coastal chaparral, foothills and mountains. It’s not uncommon to spot a cougar near a trail, at a park or even in a backyard while they’re out hunting prey such as deer, raccoons, coyotes and occasionally pets.

But attacks on humans — like the one that recently killed a man and seriously wounded his brother — are rare. The mauling last weekend was the first fatal encounter with a mountain lion in the state in two decades.

Since 1890, there have been fewer than 50 confirmed attacks on people in California, and only six ended in deaths, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. While the prospect of attacks on people is frightening, humans kill far more cougars than the other way around.

Taylen Robert Claude Brooks, 21, was killed Saturday in a remote area northeast of Sacramento. His 18-year-old brother, Wyatt Jay Charles Brooks, survived the attack and is expected to recover after multiple surgeries.

Their family said the brothers from rural Mount Aukum were hunting for shed antlers when they noticed the mountain lion along the edge of a dirt road in El Dorado County. As they were taught growing up, the young men raised their hands in the air to appear larger, shouted and threw a backpack at the lion in an attempt to scare it away, a family statement said.

Instead of retreating, the cougar charged and took the younger brother to the ground by his face.

“While Taylen beat on and yelled at the lion, Wyatt was able to wrestle the lion to the ground with him on top of the lion. The lion began clawing at Wyatt’s midsection causing Wyatt to release his grip. At that point, the lion released Wyatt, got up and charged Taylen, biting Taylen in the throat and taking Taylen to the ground,” the statement said.

His face severely lacerated, Wyatt Brooks continued to beat on the big cat in a futile attempt to get it to release his older brother. Eventually he ran back toward their car to find cell service and call 911.

The previous fatal encounter with a cougar was in 2004 in Orange County, according to a verified list kept by the wildlife department.

Last year, a mountain lion pounced on a 5-year-old boy as he ran ahead of his family on a coastal hiking trail near Half Moon Bay. The big cat pinned the boy to the ground but didn’t bite him, and ran away when the child’s mother charged the animal. In September 2022, a 7-year-old boy escaped major injuries after he was bitten by a cougar while walking with his father at a park near Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles.

Up the coast in Washington state, a woman was riding her bike on a trail with a group last month when she was attacked by a mountain lion. The woman and her friends were able to fight the animal off, but she suffered injuries to her face and neck.

Meanwhile, mountain lion deaths on California roadways are a common occurrence, and are tracked as part of a two-decade study of the animals by the National Park Service.

In January, a female mountain lion dubbed F-312 by researchers died after being struck by a vehicle while trying to cross the same Orange County highway where one of her cubs was killed.

Scientists have been studying the lions since 2002 in and around Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains to determine how they survive in a fragmented and urbanized environment.

The most famous cougar in the study, who became a kind of unofficial Los Angeles mascot, was P-22. After crossing two heavily traveled freeways and making his home in LA’s urban Griffith Park — home of the Hollywood Sign — P-22 became a symbol for California’s endangered mountain lions and their decreasing genetic diversity.

P-22’s journey inspired a wildlife crossing over a Los Angeles-area highway that will allow big cats and other animals safe passage between the mountains and wildlands to the north. The bridge is currently under construction. P-22 was euthanized in December 2022 after sustaining injuries possibly caused by car.

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You might spot a mountain lion in California, but attacks like the one that killed a man are rare