Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mountain lion killed after goats attacked in California

By Leslie Griffy
San Jose Mercury News

Hunters shot and killed a mountain lion Tuesday night that had terrorized a neighborhood in unincorporated Morgan Hill.

Around dusk, hunters positioned themselves in Nicky Austin's backyard near Highway 101 and Burnett Avenue, where the lion had killed three goats and wounded another. By 10:45 p.m., it was over.

The night before, the mountain lion had scaled the 6-foot chain link fence leading into Austin's yard to attack the goats, as it had done a few days earlier. Austin said she could hear it attack two goats just 30-feet from her bedroom window.

Initially, Austin, a high school biology teacher, wanted to trap the mountain lion. But, according to state Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Troy Swauger, the state does not allow trapping and releasing the cats.

State officials gave Austin permission to kill the cat, which the law requires them to do when a mountain lion is damaging private property. They've issued 15 such permits since 2000 in Santa Clara County and five mountain lions have been killed since then.

It was tough decision for Austin, but she said it had to be done.

"I am happy it's over," she said, "but I am sad that the animal had to die."

The attacks had been a torment. Tuesday night, Austin took her children and stayed with a neighbor.

Friends of her father, who also lives in rural unincorporated Morgan Hill, took on the job of killing the animal. They used bullets recommend by state officials to quickly kill, rather than wound the wild cat.

Austin figured the cat would return Tuesday night, because Monday it left part of a dead goat in her backyard. Last time it did that, it returned to finish its meal the next night.

"I just didn't think it would come back until really late," she said. But, she noted, the mountain lion had become increasingly brazen.

Wednesday morning as Austin waited for state wildlife workers to pick up the dead cat, she said it looked like it weighed about 80 pounds and was about 4 feet long from its nose to the base of its tail.

Most conflicts between mountain lions and people occur over food, according to retired game warden Henry Coletto, a mountain lion expert.

"If you get rid of the food source, the animal is going to move on," he said.

Those are the type of conflicts that no one wants to see, Swauger said.

Austin didn't either. After the first attack, when the mountain lion jumped her fence Friday and killed two goats, Austin moved all but two of her animals off the property.

She thought it might be over.

But when the cat came back Monday, she became more concerned.

"It's crossed the line and it has now learned behavior that is unacceptable," she said. About her goats she said, "We listened to them be killed. That is something I don't wish on anyone. We couldn't do a damn thing about it."

Although the mountain lion is dead, Austin doesn't plan to bring the goats back to her property until she has a barn big enough to house them.

After all, the area is mountain lion country, according to Coletto.

According to Santa Clara County Parks spokeswoman Tamara Clark-Shear there have been numerous mountain lion sightings at nearby Anderson Lake County Park and on the Coyote Creek Parkway, but nothing out of the ordinary.

Neighbors, Coletto said, should put goats in covered enclosures, have motion lights and, if there have been a recent spat of attacks, people should consider leaving a radio on outside overnight.

Pets should be kept indoors. And, while mountain lions rarely attack people, Coletto recommends joggers run in groups and that parents closely watch their children.

According to Coletto, statewide, mountain lions have attacked 15 people in the past 125 years.

But that's little comfort to Austin and her neighbors.

Before the big cat was killed Tuesday night, Margaret Graham, a neighbor of Austin's, said she had used floodlights to keep the lion away from her horses. The experience, she said, was "terrifying."

Contact Leslie Griffy at lgriffy@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5945.

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