Friday, August 18, 2006

Mountain lion attacks rare

Daily News Staff Writer
Published: Wednesday, August 16, 2006 5:18 PM CDT

YREKA, California - Last Friday's sighting of a mountain lion - Felis or puma concolor - in the area of North Ridge's 1200 block is a reminder that humans are still encroaching on wildlife habitats.

Like it or not, this is mountain lion country. Some Amerindian tribes like the Miwok considered the cougar to be the animal chief. They praised the animal for its speed and cunning.

White settlers, however, saw the mountain lion as a threat to themselves and their livestock. And so began an uneasy, unnerving relationship with the animal.

However, a person stands a better chance of being struck by lightning that been attacked by a large predatory cat.

California's first record of a human being attacked and killed by a mountain lion happened on June 19, 1890. The victim was 7-year-old boy, killed by two lions while he played some distance from his Quartz Valley home.

For 19 years, there wasn't another attack. On July 5, 1909, a woman and a child down in the Santa Clara area were attacked by a rabid lion. The two later died of rabies.

There wasn't another recorded attack by a cougar for 76 years.

Since 1985, there have been only 10 attacks and three deaths, despite a resurgence in the cat population. During the 1920s, the population was down to 600. It's now up to 4,000 to 6,000.

Mountain lions are solitary, secretive creatures. Humans can spend many years living in a cat's territory without seeing the animal, territory which can span over 100 square miles for a male and 20-60 square miles for a female.

This particular cat was sighted in a tree, one that children have used as a play fort and is some distance from human habitation.

The California Department of Fish and Game has issued pamphlets instructing people about how to avoid contact with these animals and what to do in a worst-case scenario. Similar instructions can also be found on the Internet.

To avoid being attacked by a mountain lion is to travel in groups. If one encounters a mountain lion alone or with others such as children, stop, make yourself look as big as possible. Even pick up small children and put them on shoulders to appear even larger. Aggressively defend the position.

The idea is to deter their attack by making them think that it isn't going to be easy for them. Pick up a branch or a rock to help fight them if needed. Don't appear as smaller prey to them.

Running away makes them think you are prey, and will encourage an attack.

And people have successfully fought back and have survived. If the cat feels that it could find itself on the other end of the food chain - it will flee.

Lieutenant Rick Berwick of the Yreka Police Department urged everyone, especially parents, to be aware of the possible dangers.

Cougars go where the food is. If a cat feels that an area lacks suitable food sources, it will go elsewhere.

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