A mountain lion that has mistakenly found itself in the heart of San Francisco has now been darted and tranquilized and will likely be relocated by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and BAcat, a model response program developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, the Oakland Zoo, CDFW and other partners.
According to CDFW Captain Patrick Foy, the lion "was darted and moved to the Crystal Springs region of the San Francisco peninsula per Department policy to move the animal to the "nearest suitable habitat." The Department does not provide detailed release location information to maximize the animal's probability for successful return to the wild."
Foy explained that "The mountain lion awoke from the tranquilizing drugs at approximately 6:30 p.m. and walked off with an ear tag and a GPS tracking device applied by representatives of the UC Santa Cruz Puma Project."
The young male lion was darted by CDFW Lieutenant Supervisor Jaymes Ober of San Mateo. The Department maintains a special response team to guide local actions for similar incidents statewide. Personnel must undergo special training for immobilization of large carnivores like this mountain lion.
Following capture, it was determined that the lion was an 82 lb. male, approximately 18 months of age. CDFW speculates that he "was likely attempting to establish new territory and was probably pushed into the San Francisco area by more dominant mountain lions in its natal home range."
The lion had been spotted several times over a three day period and was eventually captured in the Diamond Heights area of San Francisco.
The Bay Area's urban landscape, interrupted by large expanses of water and fragmented by highways and development, still maintains pockets of land and corridors that can lead young lions into heavily populated locations where there are few opportunities for escape or to continue their journey. Young lions disperse between 18 months and two years of age to find a territory of their own, unoccupied by a lion of the same sex.
Lion territories are large, ranging from 75 to 200 square miles in California.
The capture and potential relocation of this lion is the first in the City of San Francisco since a new law took effect which allows for capture and relocation of lions in urban areas.
In 2012, policy required that a mountain lion in an urban area be killed. That changed in 2013, when legislation authored by State Senator Jerry Hill (D - San Mateo) and sponsored by the Mountain Lion Foundation made it possible to haze, capture and even relocate wayward lions.
The law made California a little safer for mountain lions and helped to provide assistance to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife when resolving lion encounters with the public. Under prior policy, CDFW was on their own, and could not use assistance from zoos, researchers, universities or nonprofits in responding to these kind of incidents. SB 132 opened the door to that collaboration.
BACat, the Bay Area Carnivore Action Team, was conceived as a model project to determine how organizations could best assist CDFW in resolving situations where lions found themselves trapped in urban and suburban areas.
CDFW embraced the new policy enthusiastically. We estimate that approximately 30 lions have been saved since 2014.
On Saturday, December 1st, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife shot and killed two mountain lion kittens in Half Moon Bay.
The Department said attempting to tranquilize or capture the small cats was too risky and would put the public in danger. Wardens ultimately killed the pair, claiming it was, "absolutely the last resort for us."
A necropsy revealed the kittens were starving, barely thirteen pounds, and were only a third of the age estimated by wardens. Such misjudgments are common even for experts when lions are hiding and emotions are running high.
Immediately after the Half Moon Bay incident, Senator Jerry Hill contacted the Mountain Lion Foundation and began drafting a bill to ensure future mountain lion encounters are handled more appropriately. Many wildlife organizations helped to get the new law through the difficult 4/5ths vote required in the California Legislature.
Just days after California Senate Bill 132 became law in January of 2014 (Fish & Game Code 4801.5) the California Department of Fish and Wildlife became involved in just the type of lion/human conflict situation for which the law was written.
Similar to the incident which sparked the creation of SB 132 a year ago, citizen reports of a lion sighting in Buellton, originally misjudged the age and size of the wayward lion with first reports to Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department placing the animal as an adult lion weighing approximately 90-pounds.
Sheriff Deputies eventually found what turned out to be a 15-pound lion kitten hiding in the backyard bushes of a Buellton residence. They contained the situation and personnel from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife arrived on scene to tranquilize and remove the lion kitten. This lion was placed in captivity due to its age.
The current mountain lion policy is currently undergoing review by the department to determine whether too many lions are being taken under depredation permits.
100 of California's mountain lions are killed each year on these permits, issued to people who have lost livestock or pets to a lion. In some areas of the state the number of lions killed each year far exceeds the upper limits believed by most biologists to allow for lion populations to persist over the long term.
In other areas, like the Santa Ana Mountains and the Santa Monica Mountains in Southern California, lions are exhibiting signs of genetic frailty due to their isolation by freeways and resulting inbreeding. Moreover, these lions are at risk of extirpation in the near future due to the small populations at very high risk.
To learn how many lions are killed by permit in your county you can download this chart from CDFW.
Please, help us to continue to protect California's lions by working to change the laws and policies that keep them at risk. Join MLF today. Every penny helps.