BY JOHN DUNCAN
For the Orange County Register
Friday, November 24, 2006
LADERA RANCH — There are mysteries afoot in Ladera Ranch, mysteries about the denizens of a dark underworld around and in Ladera Ranch.
This is the story of those inhabitants of the wild nightlife of Ladera and their families.
Some of the residents have sighted these occupants; others just see the results of their passing.
Mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and deer are the occupants of this community within the Ladera community.
"The residents of Ladera Ranch live in what is and was wide-open country and the wild animals are going to wander into the area," said Naturalist Don Thomas.
"Ghost Cats" and Bobcats
On Nov. 3 Charlene Gundlach on Mayville Place in Ladera was out watching her children at play when she saw a big cat on the slope at the end of their street. Looking through her binoculars she thought she saw a long tail on the cat.
Thinking the animal was a Mountain Lion, Orange County Animal Control and O.C. Sheriff's deputies were called to search for the cat.
The deputies searched again when the cat was sighted again on Nov. 7.
"(At that time) they were able to determine that the mountain lion is truly a bobcat. They were able to snuff him out of the brush to get a better look, and found his hiding place with stool droppings," Gundlach said. "Apparently he is "mangy" which I guess means sick, and he looked blind in one eye. They decided to let him "be" and did not relocate him. So I guess we have a new resident joining us in our neighborhood."
According to Steve Martarano, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, this is not uncommon. He said that bobcats are often mistaken for mountain lions.
Thomas said that looking for the tail is a good way of determining what kind of cat you are looking at. A Bobcat's tail is short and stubby, about 6 inches long, while a mountain lion's is much longer. Also the mountain lion is much larger than the bobcat.
"About the biggest (Bobcat) I've seen was about 30 pounds," Thomas said, "Also, unless you bother them, bobcats are harmless."
In Orange County cougars, another name for the Mountain Lion, are smaller then the northern brothers. Still, Thomas said, a female in Orange County would be 75 to 80 pounds and 6 feet in length.
Thomas also said that you probably won't see a Mountain Lion.
"The Native American's called them "Ghost Cats," an apt name for them," Thomas said. "We cannot know how many times we passed within a few feet of a Cougar. Paul Beier, in his Santa Ana study, found collared Cougars lying just a few feet off trails in well-used County Parks (Caspers, O'Neill, and Trabuco Canyon).
"None of the passersby knew the cat was there but it is certain that the Cougar was watching the passing parade," he added.
Martarano adds though that unprovoked attacks are rare. Since 1890 there have been only 15 verified attacks in California. According to the DFG Web site two young children were attacked in 1986 in the Caspers Wilderness Park, both were non-fatal attacks. There were two more attacks in Whiting Regional Park, a 35-year-old man died in his encounter.
However both Martarano and Thomas say that the cats are there.
"Deer will attract lions because deer are the primary prey for (the cugar)," Martarano said.
Deer in the Headlights
Kathy McGowan of Potters Bend was walking to Starbucks with her family one Friday night at 6:30 p.m. and saw a deer family taking a nightly stroll as well.
"About 25-30 feet away from us was a Doe, Buck and a fawn. Our dog was tugging away at his leash but never barked. We had our flashlight and flashed it in the direction of the deer family and the buck stopped and stared us down until his family was a safe distance from us." McGowan said.
"We just kind of stood there with big smiles on our faces as it was pretty darn cool. My 2 year old daughter was remarkably quiet and whispered to me that they were reindeer," She added,.
Many residents have seen deer. But sometimes these encounters between deer and human can turn tragic, usually for the deer. Animal Control is called when car and deer collide.
"I was just amazed that (the deer family) was so close and the traffic was moving so fast down O'Neill that I was hoping that they weren't going to try to cross," she said.
Deer, however, can be very aggressive, especially at this time of year which is the season they are mating, or in Rut
"This is the time of year when buck deer are 'in the rut,' or exhibiting breeding behavior and becoming more aggressive," said DFG Director Ryan Broddrick. "Californians need to be especially careful that they do not break the law and compromise their own safety by providing an available food source for these animals. While deer are usually not a threat to public safety, problems can occur when they lose their fear of humans."
In October of 2005 a man died when he was gored by a deer he surprised in his backyard.
"These events are extremely unusual but not unheard of. Whenever deer begin to associate people with food, problems are guaranteed to occur," said Craig Stowers, coordinator of DFG's deer program. "Deer, even the small ones, can be quite aggressive and they are much stronger than people imagine. Like most species of wildlife, they are best viewed at a distance – it's safer for everyone and everything involved."
Jim Kupsch, who lives in the Claiborne neighborhood, had a rat problem near his home. His cat loved Kupsch's problem. The cat feasted on the rodents. The cat eventually, though, disappeared.
Noticing an owl near his home, Kupsch, is convinced that the owl got tired of the cat feasting on his prey and took out the competition.
Thomas said that though it is possible that a Great Horned Owl could easily take a house cat, the cat probably succumbed to a Coyote.
"Even though Great Horned Owls have been known to prey on skunks and small dogs they are not territorial and not that smart," Thomas said.
He said that the culprit was more than likely a coyote.
According to a wildlife services report on the DFG Web site, the coyote adapts well to change.
"Hardly any animal in America is more adaptable to changing conditions than the coyote. Coyotes can live just about anywhere," the report states.
The report also states the key to a Coyote's diet.
"One of the keys to the coyote's success is its diet. A true scavenger, the coyote will eat just about anything. Identified as a killer of sheep, poultry and deer, the coyote will also eat snakes and foxes, doughnuts and sandwiches, rodents and rabbits, fruits and vegetables, birds, frogs, grass and grasshoppers, pet cats and cat food, pet dogs and dog food, carrion, and just plain garbage."
Martarano said that the Bobcat has also been known to prey on small dogs.
For more information on the wildlife that lives around Ladera visit the California DFG Web site at www.dfg.ca.gov or by calling the San Diego regional office at 858-467-4201.
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