A young mountain lion that was spotted multiple times over the weekend in Orange County's Whiting Ranch Regional Park was captured by California Department of Fish and Game wardens early Tuesday morning (7/17/2012).
The lion was first seen on July 9th along the popular Serrano Cow Trail, and confirmed tracks in the nearby creek bed prompted officials to close the trail to pedestrians until the lion had moved on. Mountain lions roam large tracts of land and rarely stay put in any given location for more than a few days. Park employees set up motion-activated cameras in the area. They found no further evidence of the lion over the next four days and reopened the trail on the 13th.
Then over the weekend a hiker posted a video of a coyote and a mountain lion encountering each other along the trail. On Monday, a warden revisited the area and after spotting the lion, attempted to haze him away with beanbag rounds and a pepper ball. The lion became nervous and moved around a bit, but did not flee far away as the warden had hoped.
Although the lion had shown no aggression towards people or domestic animals, because the park is actively used by residents in the Los Angeles area, they decided to capture the cat to reduce any possible risk to the public. The mountain lion was baited with fresh roadkill into a large cage trap.
Based on the behavior, officials had initially guessed the lion was a mother and refused to leave the area because she had kittens nearby. But once in the trap, it turned out it was a young (18-24 month old) male. This is about the age when lions leave their mothers to disperse and find their own territories. Sometimes the mother lion knows when it's time to kick the little ones out of the nest and she will abandon her offspring at the edge of her territory. It may take a few days for the cats to start trekking to a new region. But whatever the scenario, Fish and Game officials felt the need to remove this young cat from the wilderness area.
Early Tuesday morning the lion was transported to Lake Forest for a visit with feline expert Dr. Scott Weldy. In an interview with the OC Register, Dr. Weldy noted the lion "appears to be in good shape but has a lot of ticks."
California Department of Fish and Game officials reported they still have not decided what to do with the lion: release, place into captivity, or euthanize. However, recent conversations appear to indicate they may be leaning towards placing the cat with a zoo or wildlife sanctuary facility. Others are still trying to persuade the department to give this lion a chance in the wild since his age makes him the perfect candidate for relocation.