Saturday, December 2, 2023

Mendocino Coast Resident Watches Family Cat Get Carried Away in the Jaws of a Mountain Lion

Game camera footage of a mother mountain lion and her three cubs in the area where Shawnea Bowman lost her family’s cat to a mountain lion. She was not sure if the adult lion in the picture above was the same one that killed her cat. [Picture by Shawnea Bowman]

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.

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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.”

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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.

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  1. Good info from CDFW Batter. My cats are absolutely not allowed outside at night, no matter how mad they get. So sad to see your cat carried off.

  2. I know a woman who saw a mountain Lion come over a six foot fence into her goat pen and go right back over the fence with a 90 pound goat slung over it’s shoulder…

  3. Lady wonders if that was the Big Cat that ate her cat, no that’s the other Big Cat family of the 2,000+ in California

  4. The Lady should sit out there in her car at night, & get a closer look at those Neat Mountain Lion’s leave the windows cracked just a tad. So refreshing being one with Nature

  5. Move back to the city it the lions right to the land to even say your gona shoot the mountain lion u should be arrested if u dont like the wild nature move to the city gee

  6. If there are mountain lions present in the area don’t leave your pets and small children unattended outside. That’s irresponsible. And it’s illegal to shoot a mountain lions.

  7. Up in Lassen County 20 years ago there was a case where a rottweiler was snatched from its porch and eaten by a cougar. Big dogs won’t stop them unless in a pack.

  8. There is apparently a mountain lion in the Virgin Creek area of Fort Bragg. I have not seen it but heard from others that the lion patrols a large area. I would not bring a house cat into that area much less let it out at night.
    Shooting animals in residential areas is more dangerous than leaving them alone. More people kill people than mountain lions ever did. To be shocked that a mountain lion would kill a cat to feed her family is pretty naive. We euthanize cats and dogs every day but if a mountain lion has the nerve to eat one for food we flip out. Too bad about your cat but please remember that pets can’t decide what area they are brought to and are too dumb to know about certain death from a mountain lion. You have to think for both of you.

  9. About ten years ago, I was cutting brush from an access road that paralleled Branscomb road about six miles west of Laytonville. While cutting the brush, I saw a large, long black tail fleeing into the woods, my chainsaw must of scared it. I was staying there for 5 days, so after work with three hours of daylight left, I road my mountain bike on an old logging road. After about a 1/4 mile, I came upon a black mountain lion with redwood-colored stripes, lying across the entire road. He was huge! I stopped on my bike, after several minutes, wondering what to do, I said to the mountain lion, “ok, what now?”. After a few minutes, he got up to a crouch, ready to spring, and went into the bushes. Wondering what to do, I continued to proceed in the same direction I was going, very slowly. Once I was down the road a bit, I kept going for a half hour and then returned back to the job site. The person that I worked for, had sixty house cats, twenty of them disappeared. I found out later, that the mountain lions will make a sick cat sound (instead of meow, dowl), to lure the house cats to them. This was at the end of August, and a ranger told me that the mountain lion was following the creek as it was drying up. The ranger said that there is something that the mountain lion rubs on and eats that makes their fur black. My second close encounter was in the town of Willits, about eight years ago. It was in June, before the bypass was built. I was riding my bicycle east on Valley Road, over by the horsemen’s club property, at about midnight. I heard a bunch of noise, and a deer ran about 20 feet in front of me a crossed the road only to be followed a few seconds later by a very quiet mountain lion. About two weeks later, they found 50 deer carcasses, a little northeast of the skate park.

  10. Black puma? I did some research and there are apparently no black pumas because they are not genetically able to attain that coloration through mutation, which is how other animals that are usually tan or brown get to be black. That said, I did see something in the vineyard a few weeks ago, it was running, and running faster than any dog I’ve ever seen. It could have outrun a car driving about 35 mph. It was black, and it had a big bushy tail. We thought it might be a coyote, but they usually hunt in packs, and as far as I know there are no wolves around here. So it could have been a puma. Maybe it just looked black because it was silhouetted. Or maybe there really are black pumas in California (and they either mutated recently or scientists got that one wrong). In my research I did see a photo of a squirrel that had the black mutation, and it did have orange-ish stripes on its belly.

  11. Heard the mountain Lion’s rub on something to make them look black brush of tree. Or Melanism is a genetic variation that results in excess pigmentation turning the coat entirely black, and this variation just isn’t part of a cougar’s genetic make-up. So, you see, there has never been such thing as a black mountain lion

  12. I live in Eastern Oregon and have never seen a cougar near our farm until last fall. We have a corn field right by the house and one evening I was putting out some chicken scraps for my cats and saw a brief sighting of a juvenile about 15 feet away from me! He was between me and the house. Two days latter after we had the corn out his mother walked down our driveway in front of our dinning room window and was stalking one of the cats. I think all the fires and drought has been very hard on the wildlife. I’ve been here 35 years and have never seen lions before!

    • Sit out there in your car at night you’ll see them, or their around. They follow the tree or bush line & creep or hunt everything even you. I like sitting out there at night with the window cracked a tad. They’ll pop up smelling you through the window. Neat animals if you play it safe. Get a motion light you may see them better.

  13. Many years ago I came across a mountain lion while horse back riding alone on McNab ranch. I was initially made aware of something unusual by the attention of a group of deer, which was on the lion not me. Had my trajectory been different I would have gone face to face with the lion. As it was we passed some distance apart without incident except for the lasting memory of a majestic animal.

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Matt LaFever
Matt LaFeverhttps://mendofever.com/
I like to think of myself as a reporter for the Average Joe. Journalism has become a craft defined largely by city dwellers on America's coasts. It’s time to take it back. I have been an Emerald Triangle resident since 2006 and this is year ten in Mendocino County. Please, email me at matthewplafever@gmail.com if you know a story that needs to be told.

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