10:00 PM PDT on Wednesday, July 18, 2007
By RICHARD BROOKS
A mountain lion killed a goat at a children's camp this weekend near Big Bear Lake, prompting warnings that camp operators should protect their young visitors by securing garbage and small animals.
"You don't want anything that will lure mountain lions or bears into your camp. That's probably what happened here: The mountain lion was unintentionally lured," said biologist Kevin Brennan, of the California Department of Fish and Game.
"The problem with this cat is its bold behavior," Brennan said. "It entered a camp and took a goat among 200 sleeping kids."
The big cat dragged the goat away from an animal pen to an outdoor amphitheater, where it ate its fill and abandoned the carcass before dawn Sunday at Camp Oakes.
The YMCA-owned camp is off Highway 38 about six miles southeast of Big Bear City.
"One of our wranglers, who takes care of the horses, went out and found the drag marks and discovered the carcass," said Jeff Darling, the camp's executive director.
The attack prompted the closure of the camp's small petting zoo of goats and chickens.
"We don't have any more small animals on site," Darling said. "Anything that could be considered (predator) bait we got homes for."
There are about 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions, also known as cougars, in the state, according to the California Department of Fish and Game.
Although no children were hurt, state officials immediately tried to hunt down the mountain lion and warn other camps.
"Apparently there are about 40 of these group camps -- Boy Scout, Girl Scout, YMCA and church camps -- in the San Bernardino Mountains," said Brennan, the biologist.
His message to camp staff: Keep garbage stored in predator-proof containers and keep small livestock in roofed pens.
The ill-fated goat was penned, but the pen had and no roof and short fences.
"The lion just jumped over it," Brennan said. "We know it from the tracks and drag marks."
And what tracks.
"It has the largest tracks that any of us have seen on a mountain lion," Brennan said, recalling that the heel pads alone are 2.6 inches wide.
"He's definitely in excess of 140 pounds."
Federal hunters initially tried to track down the big cat, but their dogs couldn't find its scent in the hot and dry conditions. So they set a cage trap for the animal.
"We caught a bear in the trap instead of a mountain lion," Brennan said.
The good news is that large male mountain lions have a tendency to relocate themselves, without any help from fish and game officials.
Big males typically range across 120 to 200 square miles, Brennan said.
So why were hunters trying to kill the animal?
Based on the lion's unusually large size, Brennan said he believes that the same animal caused problems two years ago.
"A guy north of Lake Arrowhead had just let his dog out ... and there was this immediate commotion," Brennan recalled. "He had a rifle by the door and he fired a shot, and the lion let go of the dog.
"Also, keep in mind that he didn't finish his meal (Sunday), so we didn't know if he was going to come back."