SLO County, CA teen says he was attacked by a mountain lion, not a cat

An Arroyo Grande teenager has stuck to his claim that he was attacked by a mountain lion last week, despite authorities saying it was more likely a common cat.

The 19-year-old dirt bike rider reported being attacked by what he thought was a mountain lion that jumped out of a tree while driving along James Way on July 3. In an interview with The Tribune, the teen’s father asked that his son’s identity not be released.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife agents investigated the incident and sent DNA samples to the department’s Wildlife Forensic Laboratory in Sacramento for genetic testing.

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When the lab results came in, there was evidence of DNA from a domestic cat, officials told The Tribune, not a mountain lion.

When asked for comment Wednesday, the teenage dirt bike rider said he still believes he was attacked by something much larger than a house cat.

“At first I saw something the size of a dog — a large dog — fall out of the tree and narrowly miss me,” he told The Tribune.

The motocross rider said he was unable to get a closer look at the animal because he was travelling at about 30 km per hour and that he had not had time to process what had happened.

He said that about half a second after he saw the animal fall, as he was grabbing the gas pedal to “get out of there,” something grabbed his helmet and yanked him backward, nearly knocking him unconscious.

“I almost got run over,” he said, adding that he was very scared as he drove away.

He said he went back later to see if a tree had fallen or if there was anything else on the path that might have fallen on him while he was cycling.

“I couldn’t have hit my head on anything, no tree had fallen,” he said.

He said he suffered from a mild concussion and neck pain after the incident.

Fish and Wildlife says DNA from the crime scene came from a cat, not a cougar

Patrick Foy, captain with the Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Division, said the department first received a report of a suspected mountain lion jumping from a tree and grazing a person’s leg.

Officers arrived on scene and took samples from the teen’s clothing and bicycle helmet. The teen’s DNA was also analyzed.

“No cougar DNA was found on any of the samples,” Foy told The Tribune.

Meanwhile, the teen said he has cats at home and was confident the cat DNA Fish and Wildlife found on his helmet likely came from his pets, and not from something that fell on him.

He added that the animal did not cling to him or fully touch him, which may contribute to why Fish and Wildlife did not find a DNA match for a cougar, he said.

“It just barely grabbed me by the back of my helmet and yanked me back,” he said.

A young male cougar jumped from a tree in Pocatello, Idaho, on April 18 after being tranquilized, officials reported. Pocatello Police Department

Mountain lion attacks are rare in California

It is important to note that mountain lion attacks are extremely rare in California, especially in San Luis Obispo County.

According to the Fish and Wildlife website, a person is 1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion.

According to the department, there have been only 24 reported mountain lion attacks on humans in California since 1984. Most of the incidents have not been fatal, although there have been four deaths in El Dorado, San Diego and Orange counties, Fish and Wildlife said.

No attacks have ever been confirmed in San Luis Obispo County, although an attack was confirmed in Gaviota State Park in Santa Barbara in 1992.

To avoid negative encounters with cougars, Fish and Wildlife advises being alert to your surroundings and traveling in the wilderness with a companion.

If you encounter a cougar, try to appear larger and more aggressive and never crouch or duck.

To report encounters or attacks, call Fish and Wildlife’s 24-hour reporting center at 916-445-0045.

Kelsey Oliver's Profile Picture

Kelsey Oliver is a reporting intern for The Tribune. She is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a current graduate student at The Graduate Schools of Journalism and Public Health at UC Berkeley.

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