Mountain lion sightings increase on Rocky Hill

By Reggie Ellis

Mountain lions have been spotted close to homes on Rocky Hill twice in the last three weeks.

Leti Robles, who lives on Wirth Avenue, said she came home on May 26 to find her pool house had been ransacked.

Shelves were ripped down off the walls, brooms and buckets were strewn across the shed but nothing was stolen. Robles suspected it was a large animal looking for food and called animal control. While walking around the home, the animal control officer discovered a paw print near her home's front window.

Robles said she didn't think much of it until June 8 when she saw a mountain lion less than 200 feet from her after she and her father were walking up the driveway after dark.

"I saw its glowing eyes as it was crouched down in the meadow," she said. "I could hardly move I was so scared."

Robles and her sister, Diana Robles, farm eight acres of olives on the hill. They said it is the first time since moving to the home two years ago that they have seen a mountain lion.

According to the California Department of Fish and Game, mountain lions roam in territory that covers about half of the state from deserts to humid coast forests at elevations ranging from sea level to 10,000 feet. They are generally secretive and solitary, hunting alone instead of packs. They are generally calm, quiet and elusive, which is why people living in their territory may not see one in a lifetime.

"There are mountain lions all through the foothills in this area," Fish and Game Lt. Craig Cooper said. "They've been there forever its just that more people are living in their territory."

While they generally avoid confrontation, mountain lions can be vicious. They normally prey on deer and other large animals, but will settle for smaller animals such as rabbits. They immobilize their prey with a powerful bite at the base of the skull, breaking the neck. You should never turn your back or run from a mountain lion as its natural hunting instincts will kick in. Adult males may be more than eight feet long from their nose to the end of their tail. They generally weight between 130 and 150 pounds.

Robles said she had heard of similar sightings recently reported in Lemon Cove and Woodlake and that they are becoming more frequent. An adult male's home range often spans more than 100 square miles. Females generally use smaller areas, about 20-60 square miles. The western slope of the Sierra Nevada, where competition for habitat is fierce, as many as 10 adult lions can occupy the same 100 square-mile area.

The Department of Fish and Game reports that mountain lion populations in California have grown since the 1920s when they were pursued by bounty hunters. Population estimates, based on field studies, revealed a population of more than 2,000 in the 1970s. Today's population is estimated to range between 4,000 to 6,000.

Many cyclists ride up Rocky Hill and the high school's cross country team often uses the hill for training. Robles said she wants people to be safe and be aware of mountain lions.

"The community needs to know for their safety," Robles said.

Immediately report all encounters or attacks to the California Department of Fish and Game 24 hour dispatch center at 916-445-0045. The threat to public safety will be assessed and any appropriate action will be taken by the department. Dead or injured mountain lions should be reported to the same number.

If you encounter a mountain lion

There's been very little research on how to avoid mountain lion attacks. But mountain lion attacks that have occurred are being analyzed in the hope that some that come crucial questions can be answered. The following suggestions are based on those studies by the California Department of Fish and Game:

  • Do Not Hike Alone. Go in groups, with adults supervising children.

  • Keep Children Close: Observations of captured wild mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially drawn to children. Keep children within sight at all times.

  • Do Not Approach. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

  • Do Not Run. Running may stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up if possible so they don't panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lions.

  • Do Not Crouch or Bend. In Nepal, a researcher studying tigers and leopards watched the big cats kill cattle and domestic water buffalo while ignoring humans nearby. He surmised that a human standing up is just not the right shape for a cat's prey. On the other hand, a person squatting or bending over looks similar to four-legged prey. If you're in mountain lion country, avoid squatting, crouching or bending over.

  • Do All You Can To Appear Larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if wearing one. Again, pick up small children. Throw stones, branches or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Mountain lions attack their prey from behind. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and may be dangerous.

  • Fight Back If Attacked. A hiker in Southern California used a rock to fend off a mountain lion that was attacking his son. Others have fought back successfully with sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands. Since a mountain lion usually tried to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.

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