No accident reported in possible feline hit and run
By: Carin Enovijas
Posted by editor Mon Apr 2, 2007 11:31:48 PDT
A large, female cougar was found dead on Highway 58 near the Keene area scales early Wednesday morning, March 28. An unidentified caller informed the Tehachapi News of the big cat's location at approximately 8:15 a.m. Kern County firemen removed the cat shortly after 9 a.m. and took it to Station 11 at Keene.
According to Officer Steve Hunsacker of the California Highway Patrol, no related accidents were reported in that area during that time frame, but witnesses reported seeing drivers photographing the big cat by the roadside. The regal animal suffered very little visible external damage and may have drawn more than just passing attention during the morning commute.
"A fireman first spotted the cat near the center divider, by Keene," Kern County Firefighter Shane Reed said. Reed said the California Department of Fish and Game asked local firemen to remove the cat and hold it until someone could come pick up the animal.
"When we went back somebody had dragged it across the freeway and put it on the shoulder," Reed said.
California Fish and Game Warden Terry Mullen said he took the cougar to Kernville, where it will be preserved until biologists can perform tests to determine the cat's age, diet and to collect other useful information about the species.
"This is the first lion I've found on the road [deceased] in six years," said Mullen, whose district covers parts of Kern, Tulare and Inyo counties. Mullen said the cat weighed 140 pounds and appeared to be in good physical condition prior to the fatal accident.
"We figured it must have been hit by a truck, since a car would have sustained some serious damage," Reed said.
JoAnn Hanna, a Tehachapi resident, was eating lunch at the Keene Cafe with her husband when the waitress told her they could see the big cat next door on the fire station lawn.
"I've never seen a female this big. It looked like she's been eating very good," said Hanna adding that some diners speculated local ranchers are probably pretty happy, even though the cats are known to feed mainly on deer, not livestock.
Hanna said her husband measured the cat's length with his size 12 sneakers, at approximately 7 feet, from the top of her head to the tip of her impressive tail.
"It was her paws what we couldn't get over. My husband put his foot next to her paw and it made his foot look little," she said.
While mountain lion sightings are not uncommon in rural areas of the Tehachapi Valleys, experts say that unless the animals are injured or sick, they are usually very elusive and wary of humans, hence most sightings are literally, fleeting.
Courtesy of the California Bureau of Land Management
Generally, mountain lions are calm, quiet and elusive. They are most commonly found in areas with plentiful prey and adequate cover. Such conditions exist on public lands, in mountain subdivisions, urban fringes and open space. As a result, the number of mountain lion/human encounters has increased. There are a variety of reasons for this increase: more people moving into mountain lion habitat, an increase in prey populations, an increase in mountain lion numbers and expanded range, more people using hiking and running trails in mountain lion habitat and a greater awareness of the presence of cougars.
The following guidelines and suggestions have been developed, based on reported patterns of behavior and response. Remember: Every situation is different and a cougar's individual behavior can be affected by several factors including the terrain, the people and their activity, as well as the age and health of the mountain lion.
• When you hike in mountain lion country, go in groups and make plenty of noise to avoid surprising a lion. Keep children close and within sight at all times. Talk with children about lions and teach them what to do if they meet one.
• Never approach a cougar, especially one that is feeding or with kittens.
• If you come upon a cougar, stay calm. Talk firmly to it and move slowly. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation, so give it a way to escape.
• Stop. If it is safe, back away slowly. Do not turn your back and do not run. Running will stimulate the cougar's instinct to chase and attack. Face the cougar and stand up straight.
• Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms and open your jacket it you're wearing one. If small children are with you, pick them up so they will not panic and run.
• If the cougar behaves aggressively, throw stones or anything you can reach without crouching down or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly.
•Fight back if the cougar attacks. Unlike with bears, "playing dead" does not work. Cougars have been driven away by prey that fights back. People have successfully fought off lion attacks using such objects as rocks, sticks, clothing, garden tools and even their bare hands.