Mountain lion that stalked Colfax hiker was healthy, had food in belly

No apparent signs of rabies but tests to confirm disease was not present
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A postmortem examination of a female mountain lion killed after stalking a hiker on the Stevens Trail near Colfax indicates the animal was healthy, not hunting for food for cubs and had food in its belly.

The examination took place last week at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at University of California, Davis.

The examination indicated the mountain lion was at least two years old but lighter than average. The cat weighed 61 pounds while the average weight for a female is 85 pounds, said Warden Mark Michilizzi of the California Fish and Wildlife Department.

The mountain lion was shot and killed Feb. 17 by a wildlife officer on the Stevens Trail. Michilizzi said that the only apparent injuries the cougar had were from the officer’s rifle shot.

The Fish and Wildlife officer had been posting warning signs and alerting hikers on the morning after the male hiker was stalked for more than an hour on the trail the evening before. A California Highway Patrol helicopter used its loudspeaker and searchlight to scare the lion off. The warden shot the mountain lion after turning around and finding it stalking him 10 feet away, Michilizzi said.

The animal appeared to be in overall good health, Michilizzi said.

“We will be doing a rabies test, which is pending,” he said. “But overall indications of the lion would suggest that she did not suggest she had rabies.”

An examination of stomach contents showed a “large amount” of chewed bones, skin, muscle, fat and hair, indicating that it could hunt and had brought down an animal, possibly a deer, the study reported.

There was also no mention in the report of indications that it had cubs, Michilizzi said.

Michilizzi said that while the exam provides information that could apparently rule out some reasons for the attack the information is inconclusive in many ways. It can be added to information from other post-mortems on mountain lions that have attacked in the past to help draw patterns, he said.

“We’re dealing with wild animals so it’s hard to speculate on why they do what they do,” Michilizzi said. “The bottom line was that the behavior of the animal posed an imminent threat to public safety.”

Like much of Placer County, the area around Colfax is inhabited by mountain lions but attacks are extremely rare. The stalking incidents Feb.16 and 17 that led to the lion’s killing came 19 years after the death of runner Barbara Schoener, 40, of Placerville, in the Auburn State Recreation Area. The mountain lion that killed Schoener was a female hunting for food for her cub. The lion was hunted and killed. The Folsom Zoo subsequently adopted the cub.

Since 1986, Fish and Wildlife has recorded 13 mountain lion attacks on humans in California, including the deaths of Schoener and two others – in 1994 near San Diego and 2004 in Orange County.

Of the 13 attacks, the only other one in the area took place last July in Nevada County, at the confluence of Shady Creek and the Yuba River. A hiker sleeping under the stars was attacked while in his sleeping bag.

Two other notable incidents not recorded by Fish and Wildlife have taken place over the past 18 years. In September 1996, two cats teamed up and stalked a cyclist along an American River Recreation Area trail at Mammoth Bar near Auburn. One of the lions was shot and killed by wardens.

And in April 1999, a turkey hunter and his partner killed an approaching mountain lion in Cool. Authorities theorized that the lion was attracted by the turkey call from the well-camouflaged hunter.