Mountain lion attack not a portent, biologist says


This is an update to a story previously posted.

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, she said -- 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 this link for more information on mountain lions.

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Like this comment
Posted by How is the goat doing?
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2010 at 12:15 pm

How is the goat doing?

Like this comment
Posted by robert
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Feb 23, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Do mountian lions have long tails? Could it have been a coyote it seems to me that a mountian lion would kill a goat quickly?

Like this comment
Posted by Wdsd Resident
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 23, 2010 at 2:53 pm

Coyotes look more like dogs; mountain lions look more like cats. Both has long tails, although the cougar's tail is longer, but that's where the resemblance ends.

Like this comment
Posted by Big Al
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Feb 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm

what'd you expect,
for the lion to offer
the goat some love?

Like this comment
Posted by Goat Love
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Hope goat is OK!

Like this comment
Posted by hiker
a resident of Portola Valley: Woodside Highlands
on Feb 23, 2010 at 10:53 pm

One fool has been talking up how we need to carry guns. I'm proud that we Portolans can take on a cougars with a flashlight. We don't need any cowards with guns to tell us what to do.

Like this comment
Posted by Thirty year resident
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Feb 24, 2010 at 11:58 am

There is nothing new about the lions. I've not had the honor of seeing one yet but have seen many bobcats, foxes and so forth. For thirty years, lions have been sited by friends who hike and ride the trails.

They are sited most often in crepuscular hours and are shy by nature. They need to eat too, so keep small animals: cats, dogs, goats etc. inside from dusk to dawn and well fenced.

The lions' natural food is deer, rabbit and small animals. We have way too many deer; so thank heaven for lions.

Sorry about your goat.

Like this comment
Posted by Rob Tanner
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 24, 2010 at 10:07 pm

If you choose to live in Portola Valley, you shouldn't be surprised that a native Mtn. Lion would choose to hunt easy prey like a freak pygmy goat. You can't put something like that out in the wild and not expect a mountain lion or any other predator to do anything other than go for its throat. Let's not all act surprised or upset--the only person to blame is the goat owner for leaving that thing outside.

Like this comment
Posted by pv rez
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm

rob: you're confused - comments here are empathetic for a neighbor and their pet, not "upset" or "surprised."

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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