State animal wardens continued to search on Monday for a mountain lion they believe attacked a homeless man last week in Riverside County, but officials said the search will likely only continue until Tuesday morning.
"There's nothing that says we're going to [find the mountain lion], and we're probably going to continue to search through the day and then stop the search at the latest, [Tuesday] morning," said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Cougar attacks on humans are rare. This would be the 15th verified case in California since 1986.
A spokesman for the Riverside Sheriff’s Department would not identify the victim, but said he remains hospitalized.
The attack is believed to have occurred between late Thursday and early Friday morning on an undeveloped lot near the intersection of Navajo Road and Fourth Street in the town of Perris. The site is a homeless encampment near several homes and businesses.
Hughan and California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens examined the site on Monday morning. He said it appeared the man crawled back into his sleeping bag and stayed there until Saturday morning before leaving his encampment in search of help. Pictures taken at the site show sleeping materials that appear to be soaked with blood.
“It looks like a lot of blood, and I don’t know how you would survive that, but he did. He got the bleeding stopped. By the time he got to the hospital, all the wounds were starting to scab over a little bit, and there was no active bleeding,” Hughan said.
Lt. Patrick Foy, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's law enforcement division, said that the man's injuries were so extensive that a doctor would not allow wardens to question him about the attack. Foy said that the homeowner who called 911 on Saturday morning on the victim's behalf said that the man claimed to be the victim of an animal attack before passing out on his lawn.
Researchers are analyzing a DNA sample to confirm the animal’s species, gender and approximate age. They’ve been looking for it since Saturday. Officers with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department joined the search, using a helicopter and infrared radar. Wildlife officers also responded to 911 calls of potential sightings. If they find the animal, they’ll destroy it as a matter of public safety.
“There is some science to support the fact that if a lion attacks a person once, it will do it again,” Hughan said. "The department policy is that if a lion attacks a person, then the lion will be destroyed."