Mountain lion attack in northern California is first fatality in decades

A teenager called 911 from a remote area in California on Saturday to report a rare incident: He and his brother had been attacked by a mountain lion.

The 18-year-old and his 21-year-old brother were separated during the attack. When officials arrived to the scene in Georgetown, Calif., an area about 50 miles east of Sacramento, they said they found the 21-year-old lying on the ground, the mountain lion crouched beside him.

The older brother was killed in Saturday’s attack, authorities said — the first recorded fatal human-mountain lion incident in California in 20 years.

According to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife, the mountain lion was euthanized near the scene within a few hours.

The El Dorado County Sheriff’s Department on Monday identified the brothers as Wyatt Brooks, 18, and Taylen Brooks, 21, both of Mt. Aukum, Calif.

The Brooks family in a statement Monday thanked the community for the “outpouring of support and prayers.”

“We are all devastated by the tragic loss of Taylen yet thankful Wyatt is still with us,” the family said. “And are well-aware the outcome could have been even worse.”

While growing up in El Dorado County, the brothers loved to spend time outdoors, hunting and fishing together almost every day, the family wrote, adding: “A brother is a friend given by nature. These two brothers were driven by nature.”

They remembered Taylen Brooks as a “very kind and gentle soul and will be deeply missed by all who knew him.”

The state wildlife department on Sunday evening confirmed that DNA from the scene of the attack matched the mountain lion that was euthanized. It was a 90-pound animal in healthy condition, the department said.

While it’s not unusual for mountain lions to roam around the same trails humans use, they tend to stay away from people, said Winston Vickers, a wildlife research veterinarian at the University of California at Davis.

Because attacks are so rare, it is hard to pinpoint risk factors, but research has found that attacks and resulting death are more likely if a child is present or if individuals are moving erratically, he said.

“There’s kind of a little bit of everything when you look at the statistics,” Vickers said.

On Saturday around 1 p.m., the younger brother called 911 to report the attack, the sheriff’s department said. The brothers had been looking for shed antlers in the area.

When police and paramedics arrived, they found the teenager, who suffered “traumatic injuries to his face,” according to the sheriff’s department, and began to provide aid. They also started a search for the 21-year-old brother.

After spotting him around 1:45 p.m., deputies fired their weapons to scare the animal off and clear the area to give aid, but the 21-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the sheriff’s department.

Saturday’s incident is the first recorded fatal mountain lion attack involving a human since January 2004, according to data from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In the 2004 incident, a 35-year-old man was killed in Whiting Ranch Regional Park in Orange County. Since then, there have been 12 nonfatal mountain lion attacks verified by the state wildlife department. The last recorded attack was in September 2022.

The latest attack is one of 22 total verified incidents since March 1986 — four of them, including Saturday’s, were fatal, the state wildlife department data shows.

Mountain lions are a specially protected species under California law. The animals are “typically solitary and elusive,” the wildlife department said.

While the agency reviews hundreds of sightings annually, attacks on humans by mountain lions are rare. A person is 1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion, according to the department.

People spending time outdoors should stay aware while on trails and be as prepared as they can be, Vickers said. He said bear spray or waving a walking stick can be effective to defend oneself.

“It is easy to become fearful but the odds are so much greater that other kinds of harm might occur,” Vickers said. “People don’t quit swimming in the ocean because there’s an occasional shark attack.”

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