By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A mountain lion attacked and injured a 6-year-old boy hiking with family and friends on Sunday along a wooded trail in California's Silicon Valley before two adults managed to frighten the cat away, a state wildlife official said.
The attack occurred at about 1 p.m. local time in an open-space preserve adjacent to the historic Picchetti Ranch Winery just west of the town of Cupertino, said Lieutenant Patrick Foy of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The victim's parents reported that the child was walking about 10 feet ahead of the rest of the group - two adult couples each hiking with their three small children - when "the mountain lion came out of nowhere" and grabbed the boy.
The lion, also known as a cougar, broke off its attack and vanished back into the woods when the two men in the group lunged at the cat shouting to scare it away, Foy told Reuters.
He said the 6-year-old boy suffered bite wounds and scratches to his upper body, head and neck.
The boy's injuries were not life-threatening but serious enough that he was hospitalized, Foy said. The Los Angeles Times reported the boy was listed in fair condition.
A team of sheriff's deputies and officers of the fish and wildlife agency combed the surrounding area until dark with search dogs seeking to track down the lion. They planned to resume the search on Monday morning, Foy said.
If the animal is captured and its DNA matches saliva samples on the boy's clothing, the mountain lion will be killed. "We have a lion that has attacked a human being and is a very clear threat to public safety that needs to be removed," Foy said.
Mountain lions are solitary, elusive creatures that tend to avoid people, and attacks on humans are fairly rare. Before Sunday, state wildlife authorities had documented 13 such attacks dating back to March of 1986, three of them fatal.
The most recent previous victim was a 63-year-old man who survived a cougar attack during a camping trip near the Yuba River in the Sierra Nevada, according to the Fish and Wildlife Department's website.
More than half of California is considered prime mountain lion habitat, and an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 cougars roam statewide.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)