Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare in California, despite sharing a habitat with 39 million Californians. However, residents in the state are becoming increasingly concerned as sightings of these elusive predators become common.
Residents of Sonoma County, California, are experiencing this firsthand after a collared mountain lion entered a house and attacked a dog, then dragged it by its neck into the backyard.
The incident occurred earlier this month after Rebecca Kracker, a Bennett Valley resident, left her sliding glass door open. According to KRON4, Kracker heard her border collie, Sherman, growling, which she noted was unusual, and went to check on him. To her shock, she found a cougar ambushing the dog while inside the house. Video of the incident shows a hissing mountain lion standing over the motionless dog after dragging it outside.
Kracker's neighbor Ron Crane who witnessed some of the attack reported that another neighbor came to the home and fired a shot in the air to scare off the animal. This quick thinking successfully deterred the mountain lion, allowing the dog to be rescued and survive the attack.
The cougar was seen later that night outside the house and continued staring through the glass door for several hours before disappearing to kill two goats on the same property. Following these events, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued a depredation permit for county wildlife biologists to locate and euthanize the mountain lion on Dec. 3.
Audubon Canyon Ranch, a North Bay environmental conservation group, identified the euthanized lion as P1, a female cougar about 16 years old. The Audubon Canyon Ranch had collared and tracked P1 throughout the course of eight years for their Living with Lions project, which focuses on studying population dynamics of mountain lions living in the North Bay area.
“Clearly, something was wrong with P1. She was very old for a mountain lion which may have led to issues related to aging including tooth wear, slowed responses, weakened senses, and possibly other health issues,” Living with Lions Dr. Quinton Martins wrote. “In recent weeks, she was more willing to put herself near human activity with people having frequent sightings of her, as well as feeding almost exclusively on livestock, all of which is very unusual behavior.”
Dr.Martins noted that while their organization is constantly monitoring these cats with trail cams and tracking collars, it isn’t necessarily real-time data that can be used to warn communities about problematic mountain lions. More importantly, their organization has no authority to manage wildlife, and lethal management specifically can only be carried out by the CDFW.
Earlier this week, CDFW captured another old cat causing trouble, an 11-year-old tom known as the "Hollywood Cat." They used GPS to track down Hollywood’s most infamous mountain lion, P-22, after it attacked and killed a dog on a leash in the Hollywood hills. Biologists transported the cat from a local backyard to a wild animal care facility for a full health evaluation.
“P-22 is a remarkably old cat in the wild and, after being deemed responsible for killing a leashed pet last month, may be exhibiting signs of distress,” CDFW said in a news release. “As P-22 has aged, however, the challenges associated with living on an island of habitat seem to be increasing and scientists are noting a recent change in his behavior.”
Mountain lions in California are listed as a “specially protected species.” The protection started in 1990 with the passage of Proposition 117. The law puts mountain lions under protected status, meaning they will issue permits to kill the animals only in the case of livestock depredation or if a person is threatened, injured, or killed.
Still, this reactive means of dealing with problem cats concerns local residents.
“That could have easily have been a kid,” the neighbor Ron Crane told KRON4. “The local activist organization knew this cat had erratic behavior problems for a while. I’m a local rancher. The public needs the whole story.”
It’s no secret that mountain lion sightings are on the rise in California, with rapid urbanization being one of the most apparent causes. Urbanization is known to split up their natural habitats, forcing them to cross through neighborhoods and other urban areas to travel from one area of suitable environment to another.
“The deer are dwindling, and these kinds of things are going to happen more often. I’m 49, and when I was in high school, there were no sightings. The (cougar) population was not as big as it is now,” Crane said.
The California mountain lion population is largely unknown—a 1996 study by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated it to be between 4,000 to 6,000. Despite the population being described as “stable,” a more up-to-date study is needed to provide an accurate estimate of mountain lions in the state.
Since 1986, there have been 21 verified attacks—three of them fatal, according to data from the CDFW. The last recorded incident was in September when a 7-year-old boy survived an attack at Pico Canyon Park in Los Angeles.
Feature image via Amy Larson on Twitter.