News

When mountain lions enter residential areas

 

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By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

Local public safety agencies should work with experts on mountain lion behavior to develop contingency plans for cases when the big cats are found in residential areas, said speakers at a public forum on mountain lions held in Redwood City last week.

Such a plan might have saved the life of a mountain lion that was killed by state Fish and Game wardens after it was found in a Redwood City backyard near Sequoia Hospital on March 29. Officials said they had tried to find a way to tranquilize the animal and remove it, but were unable to do so.

In response to that incident, experts on the big cats held an educational session for the public at Sequoia High School on April 13. The event was sponsored by the Felidae Conservation Fund, which is currently studying mountain lions (also known as pumas, cougars, panthers and as many as 35 other names) with the California Department of Fish and Game and the University of California at Santa Cruz. The study is called the Bay Area Puma Project or BAPP.

While mountain lions' current range includes half the state of California, remarkably little is known about the elusive animals.

Zara McDonald, Felidae's executive director, said researchers are expanding their knowledge with projects that include using electronic tracing collars and remote cameras to study mountain lions in the Santa Cruz mountains. Such research has found that mountain lions may live only 20 to 30 feet off trails used by hikers and runners, but that they are so reclusive that they are rarely seen.

"We want you to understand (mountain) lions are among us," said Marc Kenyon, who coordinates the California Department of Fish and Game mountain lion program. Mountain lions are protected in California, but any lion that threatens a human can be killed. About 100 mountain lions that threaten pets or livestock are killed each year with a special depredation permit, he said.

Mountain lions are the top predators in our area, a spot they once shared with wolves and grizzly bears, Ms. McDonald said. They tend to live where there are deer, the source of between 60 and 80 percent of their diet. Mountain lions have been known to eat coyotes and bobcats.

While any attack on a human by a mountain lion is a high profile event, since 1890 there have been only 16 verified attacks in the entire state, Ms. McDonald said. The last verified mountain lion attack in the Bay Area was more than 100 years ago, in 1909, she said.

Bobcats are often mistaken for mountain lions, but bobcats are smaller. Mountain lions usually weigh between 75 and 150 pounds; bobcats are usually between 15 and 30 pounds. Bobcats are usually spotted or striped; adult mountain lines are a solid tawny color. Mountain lions have long, thick tails while bobcats have short tails.

During a question-and-answer period, some of the close to 90 people attending the meeting questioned why the Redwood City mountain lion was killed and not tranquilized.

Mr. Kenyon of Fish and Game explained that a tranquilizer dart must hit the animal in the shoulder or rump, something that was not possible with the Redwood City mountain lion because it was trapped between two fences.

What to do with a tranquilized lion is also a problem, he said. Adult lions can not adjust to captivity, he said, and relocation will usually put them in another mountain lion's territory.

"Our policy is to ensure the safety of humans," he said. "The last resort is to kill the animal -- it always has been."

In Contra Costa County, however, procedures for dealing with interactions between lions and humans have been successful, said James "Doc" Hale, vice chair of the Contra Costa County Fish & Wildlife Committee. No mountain lion has been killed in the county since the plans were developed, he said, noting that all animal services in the county have tranquilizer kits.

Redwood City Police Department Captain Dan Mulholland said his department is hoping to learn from this incident. They have a relationship with the Fish and Game department, as does the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office, which receives many calls about mountain lion sightings.

Captain Mark Wyss of the Sheriff's Office said that the department often calls in experts for advice on how to proceed if mountain lions are repeatedly sighted. "We had a mountain lion sighting as recently as yesterday," he said.

Sponsoring the forum on mountain lions is part of the educational work of Felidae, which also offers programs for local schools. Available to all grade levels through junior college to any school in San Mateo, Santa Clara or Santa Cruz county, the classes include a field trip, where students interact with Felidae field biologists. The program is funded by the Packard Foundation.

Barbara Wood is a freelance writer, photographer and gardener from Woodside.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by local resident
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Apr 21, 2011 at 6:25 am

quite frankly i think there is more danger from bicyclists than from mountain lions.


Like this comment
Posted by 10X
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 21, 2011 at 9:52 am

I think there's more danger from pit bulls than bicyclists or mountain lions


Like this comment
Posted by Carol
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2011 at 12:28 pm

When a mountain lion was shot several years ago in Palo Alto, The Mountain Lion Foundation stated that the cat could have been saved if a trap with food in it had been placed near the lion, which was sleeping in a tree when killed by the police. The shooting of this lion was unnecessary and a tragedy, just as the killing of the lion in Redwood City was a tragedy and could have been prevented.
We've moved into their territory. It is time we learn ways of saving the lion without danger to human life.


Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2011 at 12:34 pm

"...The last verified mountain lion attack in the Bay Area was more than 100 years ago, in 1909, she said." Why wait before taking action? They are predators!

Go to Web Link. There have been quite a number of verified attacks in CA, however.

Simple receipe. Land trusts allow deer populations to increase without proper habitat management, and people feed them, too. As mountain lions feed on the deer, their numbers increase and they will be wandering into a neighborhood near you.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Carol, how could feeding the cat, who could take off at any moment, save it? Via a trap, you say. Where would the trap have come from? How do these traps work? Is this something animal control or cops have in their vehicles? I'd like to know more about this.


Like this comment
Posted by Jennifer gonzales
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Apr 21, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I attended the talk about mountain lions and came away with the message that any time an adult mountain lion wanders into an area populated with humans and it spotted and reported, the authorities that respond know they will probably kill the mountain lion. Once the lion is a threat to people, or might be a threat to people, the only choice is to shoot it.
I had hoped to hear that the animal experts had solutions that did not involve killing the cats.


Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 21, 2011 at 4:55 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

A well researched book on this subject is A Beast in the Garden:

A well researched book on this subject is A Brast in the Garden:

Web Link

“The theme of the artificiality of the wilderness around Boulder runs throughout The Beast in the Garden, as does the idea that by romanticizing this artificial wilderness and its supposed 'naturalness,' Boulder's citizens were shirking their responsibility to manage it properly and were refusing to understand their role in creating the conditions that had led to the return of cougars.”

Harper's

March 2005

“Weaving together deep research, meticulous reporting, vivid characterization, disciplined prose, informative political and historical asides, lucid science, incisive wit, and narrative pacing as smooth and suspenseful as a stalking mountain lion, Baron has created a wily page-turner....”

Boston Globe

March 29, 2004

“The theme of the artificiality of the wilderness around Boulder runs throughout The Beast in the Garden, as does the idea that by romanticizing this artificial wilderness and its supposed 'naturalness,' Boulder's citizens were shirking their responsibility to manage it properly and were refusing to understand their role in creating the conditions that had led to the return of cougars.”

Harper's

March 2005

“Weaving together deep research, meticulous reporting, vivid characterization, disciplined prose, informative political and historical asides, lucid science, incisive wit, and narrative pacing as smooth and suspenseful as a stalking mountain lion, Baron has created a wily page-turner....”

Boston Globe

March 29, 2004

The root of the problem is, as Baron documents so well in his book Beast in the Backyard, that mountain lions no longer fear humans. Since they are protected in California there is no reason for them not to push into human territories and that is exactly what they are doing.

The experience in Boulder Colorado where the residents encouraged mountain lions to 'share' their space with humans resulted in the mountain lions losing their fear of humans. The mountain lions became comfortable around humans and started eating their dog food and then their dogs. Finally a mountain lion attacked and killed an adult human.

The solution was a vigorous program of reinstilling fear of humans into the mountain lion population. This involved attacking them with painful but non lethal substances whenever the mountain lions encountered humans. The mountain lions learned to avoid humans and human spaces. Killing a mountain lion produces no such learning as they are solitary animals and hence there are no other mountain lions to witness and learn from such a killing.

Baron's Beast in the Garden describes how the Boulder community learned to deal with this problem without having to kill the mountain lions. But it took a human death to convince the humans that they had to stop playing pussy cat with wild animals.

But I suspect, as usual, we will continue to think that we are special and where we live is unique and that there is nothing to be learned from other communities who have dealt with this problem.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 21, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Hey Carol - your suggestions sound great from the comfort of a sofa in your living room. It's a very different matter to stand in the same yard as a mountain lion that's "sleeping" in a tree, much less try to set up a trap in their vicinity.

There is a far better chance that the cat will just bolt and disappear (of course, you could suggest that a sharpshooter could just tranquilize it while it's in full run - ever tried that little feat?). And should the cat attack someone along the way, I guess you could just say "I'm terribly sorry, I guess my idea of a trap didn't work. Sorry..." In public safety, human life comes first. That's the way it works.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2011 at 5:07 pm

The basic deal is: humans are moving into mountain lion territory, and mountain lions are expanding their turf into human territory. Without any predators to keep the lions' populations in check, and because they require a certain number of sq. miles of territory for each lion (which they will defend against others), newly "hatched" lions in an expanding population will need new territories. And those new territories will often be urban areas. It's probably time to have a very limited hunting season for lions in Calif. again. They shouldn't have a favored status unless they become an endangered species, which obviously they're not.


Like this comment
Posted by Fred
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 22, 2011 at 11:28 am

Glad to see logical responses to the issue. Simply recall the fable regarding the frog who midway giving the scorpion a ride to the other side of the lake was stung. Before they both drown, the frog asked why. The scorpion responded, " I am a scorpion and that is my nature." The internet has many links showing bears, mountain lions and others attacking the personnel releasing them back to the wild. When do animal rights stop and the bbq begins?


Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of another community
on Apr 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm

I see where a mountain lion was just tranquilized and safely removed from a residential area near Tulsa Okla. I don't believe there is any record of a fleeing ml harming a person. In such cases, all they want to do is get away!

I would hope our local law enforcement/wildlife people could become as progressive as the Oklahoma folks.


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

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