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Marin authorities get training on living in mountain lion co

 
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PostPosted: Sat May 26, 2007 12:03 am    Post subject: Marin authorities get training on living in mountain lion co Reply with quote




Kan Dhillon will never forget his first encounter with a mountain lion.
"I was in Wyoming, and I was just having a conversation about mountain lions with some other rangers," said Dhillon, a National Park Service ranger and wildlife biologist in Point Reyes. "And suddenly, one ran across the road right in front of us. It made it across in two bounds."

Dhillon has never seen a mountain lion - also known as cougar, catamount, puma or devil cat - in Marin County. But he knows they're out there. State officials with the Department of Fish and Game estimate there are three to five lions for every 100 square miles of California, and more than half of the state is considered lion country.

"I've seen their tracks a lot of times," he said. "They're more or less all over the place."

Dhillon was one of 35 law enforcement officials - including sheriff's deputies, rangers from state and national parks, Marin County Open Space, and the Marin Municipal Water District - who attended Wednesday's presentation on living with mountain lions. Doug Updike, a senior wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, spoke to the group at the Marin Art and Garden Center in Ross.

Updike knows lions. He has studied them,


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tracked them, examined their remains and even raised three mountain lion kittens by hand for a Northern California zoo. He has a healthy respect for the animals, which he describes as perfectly designed killing machines. But he insists the majority of encounters between mountain lions and humans are like Dhillon's - a fleeting glimpse of something wild.
"People call because they're afraid," Updike said. "But by the time I finish talking to them, they end up feeling lucky. They've been fortunate enough to have a wildlife experience that most people never have and that they'll probably never have again."

Updike knows that the first glimpse of a seven-foot cat wandering through someone's backyard can be a terrifying experience. He points out, however, that the majority of people who call police and park rangers to report a mountain lion haven't actually seen a lion at all.

"Often it's a neighbor's dog: a golden retriever or a yellow Labrador," Updike said. "Many times, it's a bobcat."

Mountain lions are hard to see, Updike said, because their dust-colored coats blend in perfectly with the trees and grasses around them, and because the cats respond to danger by keeping perfectly still.

Male lions weigh between 100 and 160 pounds, while females weigh between 70 and 100 pounds. They're powerfully built, with jaws that can cut through bone, and they travel frequently: Males have a range of about 100 square miles, rarely staying in the same place for long.

And, yes, they do attack people, though no mountain lion attack has ever been reported in Marin County. According to the state, there have been 14 attacks on humans - six of them fatal - in California in the past 128 years. These include the killing of a mountain biker in Mission Viejo in 2004 and a gruesome attack in January on a 70-year-old hiker in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park who was saved when his wife fought off the lion with a branch.

But those attacks are rare, Updike insisted. Of the 1,167 reports of mountain lion encounters his agency received between 1990 and 1998, 79 percent were resolved by providing more information to the caller, he said. Another 18.4 percent were investigated as possible threats, while only 2.6 percent of those calls resulted in the department killing a lion, he said.

"Lions don't like people," Updike said. "They don't want to hunt us. If they did, there would be dozens, if not hundreds of people dead in California every week."

Mountain lions dine almost exclusively on deer, with a healthy adult eating about one per week, Updike said. Unlike coyotes, they won't eat garbage or pet food, and they rarely attack pets. When deer are scarce, however, they will attack livestock. According to Updike, they seem to prefer goats.

The loss of livestock to lions is one of the few circumstances in which Californians may legally kill a mountain lion. California is the only Western state to ban the hunting of mountain lions. It is illegal to bring any part of a lion into California, even one killed legally in another state. It is even illegal for a California resident to pursue a cougar, or to allow a dog to do so.

Despite the infrequency of those attacks, state Fish and Game wardens still track and kill a small number of "problem" lions every year, Updike said.

"We're now taking as many problem lions per year as hunters did during the last year they could legally be hunted, 1972," Updike said.

Law enforcement officers will attempt to kill a lion only if it has attacked a person, livestock or pets, or if it poses an imminent threat to human life. In 2004, for example, police officers shot and killed a lion perched in a tree near a residential area of Palo Alto because of concerns that children, who were about to be released from school, could be at risk.

"It was just at the wrong place at the wrong time," Updike said.

Hikers in lion country - which includes all of Marin - can avoid attacks simply by being themselves, Updike said.

"The same tactics work for lions that work for coyotes, bears and even deer," Updike said. "When you're walking, make sounds and act as much like a human as possible. If you see one, open your jacket so that you look bigger. Speak to the lion. If you have kids, pick them up, so that the lion sees one big thing instead of a big and a little thing. Slowly back away as you're speaking. Usually, the lion will stay frozen still and let you back up."

Because virtually all attacks happen to people who are hiking alone, Updike also recommends the buddy system.

"Take an animal or a person with you," he said.

Because a mountain lion's favorite food is deer, homeowners can keep lions out of their yard by discouraging deer, Updike said. Motion detectors that activate sprinklers or even a good watchdog will convince big cats to go somewhere else, he said.

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TO LEARN MORE

For more information on mountain lions and other large California predators, visit the Department of Fish and Game's Web site at www.keepmewild.com.

Contact Rob Rogers via e-mail at rrogers@marinij.com
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Tweleve years of dedication Studying "Cougars" taking sighting reports, Tracking & Filming the wild!
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PostPosted: Sun May 27, 2007 7:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

How many cougars does it take to screw up hunting? .......

....... screw it up to the point where there is no need to hunt?

Colorado and California are well on the way to answering that $64 question.

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PostPosted: Sun May 27, 2007 10:22 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

and from reports... the once hunted, now protected, is now becoming the hunter!
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PostPosted: Sun May 27, 2007 10:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well said by both of you Exclamation Exclamation

Thanks for posting Very Happy

Cougardaville Very Happy

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