Monday, August 14, 2006

CA mountain lion sightings spark concern

By Mark Abramson/Staff Writer
Aug. 13, 2006

CENTRAL CALIFORNIA -- At least three mountain lion sightings in the past six weeks at La Purisima Mission State Park, including one in July that frightened a woman, has park officials concerned.

Park officials classified the woman's sighting on July 23 as an encounter, meaning the big cat saw her as well. The woman saw a mountain lion chasing a deer in the park's lower loop, which is a popular place for walking and jogging.

"We call it unusual," Supervising Ranger Theresa Armas said about the sightings. "The park exists to provide a habitat for lions. Generally they are afraid of people."

"We do have signs at most of the entryways that let people know it is mountain lion country, but when there are regular sightings, it does concern us.

It is unclear if the sightings are of one mountain lion, or whether it is the same animal that attacked miniature donkeys in the park in November. The donkeys fought back, which apparently scared the animal off.

Mountain lions rarely attack humans.

According to the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), there has been only 15 mountain lion attacks since 1890, and only six of those were fatal. The latest fatality was in January 2004 at the Whiting Ranch Regional Park in Orange County. There was also a nonfatal attack that same month in that park.

"Pretty much anywhere you see deer, you will see mountain lions," said Steve Martarano, a DFG spokesman. "They have a wide range of up to 120 square miles. There is about 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions in California. Half the state is considered mountain lion habitat.”"

Adult mountain lions range from 90 to 160 pounds, with the males being the heaviest, Martarano said.

Running, which is what the woman in the recent sighting did, is the wrong thing to do when encountering a mountain lion, because the big cat is likely to chase that person, Martarano said. DFG advises people who encounter a mountain lion to make themselves appear as big as they can by waving their arms. They should make noise and throw small objects or rocks at it, and if it attacks, fight back. It is also suggested that people with small children going through mountain lion country keep them close by. It is recommended that people stay with a buddy if they are in an area where mountain lions live.

Al Hunt, a park docent and aid, who is also the president of the Lompoc Valley Distance Club, said he has started warning people about the danger when he's working in the park kiosk. A few weeks ago, during his park's Lizard Breath run, he warned runners about the danger.

"I haven't actually seen a mountain lion on the mission, but I've seen them on the base," Hunt said.

He recalled seeing a lion stalking a small herd of deer on base, that looked like “Sylvester sneaking up on Tweety” before it chased after its prey with amazing speed.

It's a good thing the mountain lion that encountered a woman near the mission didn't give chase, he said.

"Obviously, if it had gone after her, she would have gotten hurt," Hunt said.

Mark Abramson can be reached at 737-1057 or

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