A juvenile mountain lion about a year old was shot and killed in Pleasanton, by a California Department of Fish and Game warden at 11:15 a.m. this morning.
I just got off the phone with Troy Swauger, a DFG information officer and he said they got a call from animal control about 9:20 a.m. reporting that the 50-60 pound mountain lion was acting unusual. A DFG warden responded to the scene. When the warden came into the area, she noticed a park with playing children about 200 yards away.
The warden was told the big cat had been pacing back and forth in the parking lot next to a Pleasanton condominium complex. The cat had probably come out of an open space area next to the complex by traveling along a nearby creekbed. Local police officers on the site told our Valley Times staff writer Sophia Kazmi that the lion had "been in at least a couple of back yards in the Birch Creek Townhouses complex."
Troy told me the cat was standing next to a chainlink fence that it could have jumped over and returned to the open space area but it refused to go. He said the mountain lion was moving from the parking lot back toward the townhouses when the warden took one shot and killed it. It had been determined to be a public safety issue with a potential risk to humans.
This is the time of year when mama mountain lions boot yearling cats out on their own after spending a year being trained in the art of hunting. Troy said the 50-60 pound cat was a little smaller than normal for its age, but it appeared healthy. They’ll be doing a standard necropsy on the animal to find out the sex and to see if it had any diseases.
Today’s mountain lion encounter was very similar to other encounters with these big cats in the past (Palo Alto, Livermore in 2004). It’s almost always a yearling cub, freshly on its own and trying to set up its own territory. Unfortunately, mountain lion territories seem to be getting more and more in demand as the lion population grows and habitat space is gobbled up by us greedy humans. Older, bigger lions keep chasing the youngsters off until some of them occasionally wander into town and unfortunately get into trouble.
My friend Jim Swanson, a DFG wildlife biologist who retired a couple of years ago, once told me, "I believe the reason we are having so many lion sightings now is that the lion population is growing and these cats are getting kicked out of the better habitats and are searching for a place to make a living and unfortunately they are ending up adjacent to and in the urban areas where trouble brews for them."
As Jim told me in 2004 when I wrote a lot of columns on dealing with mountain lions, "saving the animal is always the first choice." Capture is the next consideration, and the only safe way to do it is to tranquilize the animal. Back in the 1970s, I took the DFG tranquilizer course, where wardens are trained to tranquilize problem animals. I quickly discovered there are many uncertainties and variables with tranquilizing an animal, especially if you’re in the middle of town. Only on TV shows do the animals go immediately to sleep. In reality, you could end up with a terrified, half-drugged mountain lion running through backyards and maybe encountering and injuring a human, or worse.
All things considered, as much as I love those beautiful animals, I’d probably have made the same decision as the warden, especially after seeing those kids playing in a nearby park.
On another note, as I wrote in a column on May 19, 2004, it would be a good thing if DFG could offer more guidance to help local law enforcement agencies handle these lion problems. Special seminars and special "Mountain Lion Kits" could be created and provided. The object of the program would be simple. Come up with standardized ways to deal with the big cats. And put together a "DFG Lion Committee" of lion experts from California and other states to meet regularly and analyze past events and brainstorm and come up with better and less lethal and more effective ways of dealing with wildlife encounters.
It would make things a lot easier for police and wardens and citizens the next time a mountain lion or a bear decides to go for a walk downtown.