Almanac

News - March 3, 2010

Goat survives mountain lion attack

by Dave Boyce

It was surely 10 minutes of hell for the pygmy goat Henri in Portola Valley on the night of Feb. 18, when an adult mountain lion jumped a 5-foot fence at around 9:30 p.m. at the goat's Wayside Road home and attacked, biting him in the neck.

He's recovering, owner Susan Nightingale told The Almanac. He has two puncture wounds to his trachea and what appears to be a claw scratch on his back, she said.

Ms. Nightingale said she became aware that something was wrong when she heard an unfamiliar "throaty screaming" — a sound of fear — coming from outside. It might be an anguished bird in the nearby wild area, she said she thought.

She didn't see anything on her first trip outside, she said, but the second time her flashlight illuminated Henri on his side and 25 feet away and inside the fence, a pacing mountain lion.

Remembering advice for lion encounters, she said she did not run or turn, but screamed and waved her flashlight to try to scare it away.

The lion looked briefly at her, she said, then crouched, leapt, cleared the fence and disappeared into the brush.

"I didn't have to yell for very long," she said. Asked to describe the lion's leap, Ms. Nightingale said it seemed effortless and was "beautiful, just beautiful."

A far cry from her first reaction: "Oh my God," she said. "Can you imagine going into your backyard and seeing a mountain lion?"

Aftereffects on Henri

The next day, Deputy Eric Sakuma from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office visited Ms. Nightingale, verified that she had seen a lion, and found a couple of tracks in a likely spot.

As for Henri, "It seems like he's doing OK," she said.

He has shown signs of post-traumatic stress, she said. He's skittish and not eating like he used to.

Nor is he head-butting with his two male pygmy goat pals like he used to. "He is definitely more fragile at this time and I think he is avoiding them," Ms. Nightingale said.

A new threat?

Having attacked a goat, will this lion now be predisposed to attack humans? "No," said a biologist.

"There's no evidence that that's true," Rick Hopkins, a San Jose-based conservation biologist and student of mountain lions, told The Almanac.

"We can't predict the future," he added. "We don't know what any cougar may or may not do."

Attacks on humans in all of North America tend to occur in remote parks or wilderness at a rate of one or two a year, Mr. Hopkins noted. The risk is "extremely small, very tiny," he said.

The fact that the lion did not kill Henri is a sign that he is unlikely to come back, Ms. Nightingale said she was told by Deputy Sakuma.

Visit keepmewild.org for more information on mountain lions.

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