News - March 24, 2010

Parading mountain lion is both beautiful and scary

by Dave Boyce

That Woodside is mountain lion country is not news. Sightings in Woodside are a regular feature of the county-wide e-mail alert system. Observers, when interviewed, tend to feel blessed by the experience.

Thirty-year resident Sabrina Pospisil, for example, saw one at 7:10 a.m. on Friday, March 12, from her home office window on Roan Place. "He was beautiful, Oh, he was so beautiful," she said in an interview. "He looked so healthy. The eyes looked bigger and rounder (than I was used to). He was full of life."

What scared Ms. Pospisil was the lion's return after an apparent earlier visit, and its confidence in parading up her front steps and through her yard. "He's just walking along, broadcasting 'king of beasts,'" Ms. Pospisil said as she ascended her stairs and tried to emulate its stride.

"They seem to like stairs! They like the entrance to my house!" she added. "I never dreamed they'd be walking up here in the open. ... To me, this is dangerous."

Four young children live nearby and this is the second lion sighting at her home and the third in the area in 10 days, she said.

"I would be terrified if my kids lived here," she said. "This is kind of a warning and we all need to think about what we're doing here. What is the sensible thing to do?"

A San Mateo County Sheriff's Office advisory distributed in response to the incidents warns residents to supervise children outside, to be cautious at dawn, dusk and at night, and, if the lion seems confrontational, to stand your ground, appear as large as possible and fight back if attacked.

Ms. Pospisil, a psychotherapist, has this warning posted on a cabinet in her waiting room. In the March 12 sighting, a client in session with her and facing a large window had pointed out the lion approaching her house.

Therapists are in the business of comforting people. "All my patients, I have to advise them" about the lions, she said. "That's not too comforting."

Ms. Pospisil is no novice to lion encounters, having joined the Peace Corps in 1968 and gone to Africa. "I've been around a lot of lions," she said.

This reporter asked her if she might be overreacting in that this lion does not appear to have threatened anyone. "Wait until a lion walks around your yard twice in a week and you'll feel differently," she replied, then added, "Maybe I'm not as brave anymore."

A housecat, but larger

Jeannine DeWald, a wildlife biologist at the Monterey office of the Department of Fish and Game, said in an interview that such incidents are not usually cause for alarm.

A lion sauntering through a yard is "a little unusual," Ms. DeWald said, but this animal was unaware that humans were watching. "What we go on is its behavior when it spots a person," she said.

Ms. Pospisil said that when she appeared outside on an elevated deck, the cat moved a little faster but did not appear frightened.

The behavior of a housecat is apparently instructive in reading a mountain lion's intentions.

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Mountain lions have evolved to kill deer, Ms. Dewald said. The likelihood of an attack is proportional to one's deer-like appearance. "They will take other things, but they are way down the list," she added.

As to how to fight back, Ms. DeWald recommends carrying a tall wooden walking stick that you can wave to look larger. "If push comes to shove, it (also) gives you something you can fight back with," she said.

Any predator, in considering prey, will always weigh the possibility of serious injury to itself, she added.


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