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Animal expert: Mountain lion attack rare

Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus, Ohio, Zoo, shares a couch with a cheetah.
Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus, Ohio, Zoo, shares a couch with a cheetah.

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A woman was attacked by a mountain lion that was later shot and killed.
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(CNN) -- A 110-pound mountain lion attacked two woman, critically wounding one, Thursday in California. The women were riding bikes on a trail in a wildlife preserve in Orange County, California, when, according to witnesses, the mountain lion attacked.

Authorities shot and killed the mountain lion. Authorities think the same animal had mauled a man whose body was found nearby. CNN's Soledad O'Brien talked with Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus, Ohio, Zoo, about the danger posed by mountain lions to recreational bike-riders.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk a little bit about the wilderness park where this attack took place. How unusual is an attack in this location?

HANNA: Well, it's very unusual. You don't want people to think they can't go out and enjoy the mountains in California, Wyoming or Montana, Idaho, where these cats are. This is very, very unusual. I was shocked when I heard about this last night.

Right now, I am with a cheetah, the fastest cat in the world. The cheetah is about the same size as a mountain lion. When cats attack, especially a mountain lion, they usually go for the head, or the neck or the face, because they're not the largest cat in the world. To attack a person, a cat has to be either injured, or hungry or an older cat.

The reason I say that is that mountain lions, out of my 30-something years of working with animals in the wild, as far as filming them, I have only seen a mountain lion twice. Mountains lions are a very elusive animal. They don't want to see you any more than you want to see them. That's why I was shocked when I heard it. I guess that there was a body of another individual found with the cat?

O'BRIEN: It's unclear if there was a connection, but It looks as if the same cat killed another person. So that would be three people attacked.

HANNA: Right. Of course you know what the rule is now basically in the all parks, is that if a grizzly or another animal gets into a camp and attacks people or raids, then usually what they have to do is put down the animal. So that's why we try and tell people not to leave campsites open, especially in the spring.

This time of year, this is a very, very unusual thing. If you saw the news yesterday, you saw that 30 percent of all species on the planet could go into extinction in the next 40 years because of our solar system and the ozone layer. However, think about what happens to cats like the cougar that needs a certain territory, all these animals, with the human population approaching, and with more and more people wanting to hike, and camp and bike-- these animals are pushed out.

So what you have to realize is that this is going to continue to happen as far as that's concerned, but it will not happen that much. Again, a mountain lion is an animal that people just don't see a lot of.

O'BRIEN: The mountain bikers who were riding by and were able to assist the woman who'd been grabbed by the head ... said that in spite of throwing rocks at the lion, it basically just sat there. That seems to be unusual behavior. The mountain lion wasn't afraid at all of people.

HANNA: Right. This cat obviously lived in the area. I don't know the background. Somebody told me it might be someone's cat that got loose. I doubt that very seriously. But this cat seems like a cat that was used to humans, it was used to that area. Again, it might have been injured, might be older, that cannot hunt on its own, and therefore, it's watching these people for who knows how many months, and of course he's found by killing one person.


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