Mendocino Coast resident Shawnea Bowman lives northeast of Caspar along the coast. In the predawn hours of yesterday morning she awoke to a noise from outside and her dog barking loudly. Taking a look through a nearby window, she saw a “huge” mountain lion in the darkness. The nocturnal predator was seemingly unmoved by the dog’s barking, and next thing Bowman knew, the mountain lion attacked her cat, and as she put it, “ran off with him in his mouth.”
Bowman told us that she has lived on Turner Road off of Simpson Lane and Mitchell Creek for her entire thirty years of life and has never experienced mountain lions. Three months ago, she remembers, “I was driving down Mitchell creek (which is about one mile from my home) and I came around the turn at 9:30 at night and there were 2 mountain lion cubs in the road crossing.” Bowman stopped her vehicle and watched the cubs run back in the direction they were coming from and disappeared into the brush.
Six weeks after the Mitchell Creek Road sighting, Bowman’s neighbor reported they had captured images of a mother mountain lion and three cubs on their game camera, seen in the image above.
During this time period, Bowman said she and her family actually located pawprints on their property near their gate indicating that it had successfully scaled their fence, walked through their yard, and fled through the other side of their property after it got scared.
Seven weeks after the mother and her three cubs were caught on camera, Bowman’s cat is now gone–falling victim to the predation of these animals.
We spoke with Tom Batter, a biologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife assigned to Mendocino County, about the close proximity residents and potentially dangerous predators navigate in this place we call home. Batter was trained at University of California, Davis where he earned his PhD studying the genetics of Tule Elk populations.
Most of California is mountain lion habitat, Batter explained, and as “human populations expand into this urban-wildland interface, it is not surprising that we are going to have encounters with wildlife.” The overwhelming majority of human-wildlife conflicts is a result of these animals being attracted in some manner to human habitations.
Even Mendocino County’s comparatively urban areas such as Ukiah, Willits, or Fort Bragg are directly adjacent to mountain lion territory, allowing the possibility that mountain lions can be seen within city limits. “If deer are present,” Batter said, “mountain lions are going to be attracted to those areas.”
Mountain lions are nocturnal, Batter pointed out, and the majority of predation events occur after dusk and before dawn when mountain lions are most active.
Batter explained that mountain lions are not much different from other animals in terms of what attracts them to human habitation. They could be drawn to a home if any food for wildlife or pets is left outside which act as attractants “increasing the likelihood of these interactions occurring,” Batter said.
Common pets such as dogs and cats are susceptible to predation and Batter urged homeowners to keep pets on a leash when outdoors, always supervise them, make sure pets are kept in an enclosed, secure structure, and do not let them roam free at night.
Bowman recognizes that it is a “common sense thing to keep your pets locked up” but she argued it is “not realistic for some.” Some cats, Bowman said, “do not want to be inside cats” and pointed towards many using their outside cats for rodent control. When it comes to dogs, Bowman said many use their larger dogs as watchdogs to warn them when danger is near adding “which is what our dog did from the porch.”
After losing her cat to the mountain lion, Bowman said her family will “be getting a large livestock guardian dog.”
Bowman recognized Fish and Wildlife could trap the animals if they prove to be a consistent threat, but said, “There will always be more.” She went as far to say that if mountain lions are “causing harm or threatening your animals and possibly your children”, residents should “have the right to shoot and kill and give these animals a reason to start fearing us and staying out of where they don’t belong.”
It should be noted, it is not legal to shoot a mountain lion as per the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 which classified them as “specially protected” mammals making it illegal to “take, injure, possess, transport, import, or sell any mountain lion or any part or product thereof.”
Bowman commented that mountain lions are “amazing, beautiful animals, but when they are walking through my front yard where my child plays and my animals are supposed to be safe, then it is time to protect ourselves.”
Batter said almost all of these human-wildlife conflicts are preventable and encouraged Mendocino County residents to actively work to mitigate them by tried and true measures.
Speaking to the danger presented by mountain lions, Batter said, “like any other wild animal, in certain situations mountain lions can be dangerous.” He went on to say, “deer can be dangerous with their sharp, cloven hooves, even bobcats, and skunks.”
Mountain lions “get a bad rap compared to other species because they are large carnivores”, Batter argued, and “the reason why these stories make it to the news is they are rare and unusual events.”
“Generally mountain lions’ nature is to avoid humans. Chances are you have been seen by a mountain lion, but you never saw it”, Batter told us.
The best approach to navigating the small potential of mountain lion predation is “reducing the risk.” Batter encouraged residents to avoid hiking alone, especially at night, adding that playing music and hiking in groups mitigates human-wildlife conflict.
Batter suggested homeowners should examine the landscaping and their outdoor space and consider working to “minimize cover and hiding place.” Stalking predators can use crawl spaces, the areas under decks, or in thick vegetation for areas to hide, he explained
Batter addressed the verb “stalking” often attributed to the manner in which mountain lions will attack their prey. He said this behavior is “misinterpreted” and these predators do not “view humans as prey items. Of course, there are exceptions, but those are anomalous behaviors.” In Batter’s experiences, whenever there has been a circumstance of a mountain lion stalking a human it has been a young, juvenile exploring their environment or a protective mother defending her cubs.
For Mendocino County residents that experience a concerning human-wildlife conflict, Batter encouraged them to complete the Fish and Wildlife’s Incident Reporting Tool. An experience like Bowman’s loss of her cat rises to the level of reporting, Batter said.
Batter also pointed towards Fish and Wildlife’s Human-Wildlife Conflict Toolkit which offers the public essential information about the various wildlife one could encounter, CDFW’s goals in managing that wildlife, and strategies to mitigate conflict.