Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Half of California is Big Cat Territory

Officials say living with mountain lions is part of Bay Area life

The scenic beauty of the Bay Area means having to put up with more than just the high cost of real estate. It means occasionally sharing our living space with some of the area's original inhabitants.

Two East Bay neighborhoods have had recent brushes with the wild side. Since June 9, residents of the Rossmoor retirement community in Walnut Creek have reported seeing a mountain lion snooping around.

The surrounding area is home to many deer, a delicacy for mountain lions, officials said.

"You'll see mountain lions anywhere you see deer," said Steve Martarano, a spokesman with the California Department of Fish and Game. "That's their primary prey — that's why half the state is considered mountain lion habitat."

On June 13, a Fish and Game warden shot and killed a mountain lion in Pleasanton after it wandered into a residential area,

The shooting occurred On the 3900 block of Vine Street. Officers tried to scare the animal back into the hills, but to no avail. When it came within a few hundred yards of a park where children were at play, the animal was shot.

"Mountain lions are a protected species, but there are instances under the law where they can be killed," Martarano said. "Such action can be taken if it's a public safety issue, which is what happened in Pleasanton."

Nevertheless, it is extremely rare for mountain lions to attack people, he said. Since 1890, there have only been 15 recorded attacks in California. "People should be aware of mountain lions for sure," Martarano said, "but they shouldn't be paranoid or overly afraid."

If — by some chance — you encounter a mountain lion, there are some basic safety tips you should follow, officials said.

The Department of Fish and Game advises people to try and appear larger than they actually are. Raise your arms and open your jacket if you're wearing one.

Also, throw sticks and stones — or whatever you can get your hands on — without bending down or crouching.

"When you crouch down, it obviously makes you smaller," Martarano said. "You don't want the lion to think you're a small animal or a deer."

If you're with small children, pick them up so they don't turn and run, officials warn. Running may trigger a lion's chase instinct. Instead, walk backwards slowly and talk in a loud voice.

Finally, if you are attacked, fight back, officials said. A mountain lion will usually try to go for the head or neck, so try to remain upright.

"Attacks are extremely rare," Martarano said. "Mountain lions are pretty much afraid of people."

For more information, visit the Department of Fish and Game's Web site at

Staff writer Simon Read can be reached at (925) 416-4849, or

For the animals,
Laura Lluellyn-Lassiter

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