Mountain lion sightings excite East County

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Mountain lions are leaving footprints all over East County.

Crest Library was the place to find out about mountain lions last week when Robin Park with the Mountain Lion Foundation came to talk about these elusive animals with the Crest residents.

Mountain lions are leaving footprints all over East County.

Crest Library was the place to find out about mountain lions last week when Robin Park with the Mountain Lion Foundation came to talk about these elusive animals with the Crest residents.

“The whole area from the Eastern side of Alpine on through Descanso and Pine Valley, there is a lot of stuff going on,” said Parks. “Particularly in the last two years, all the way up to Julian, there is a population of lions that live in that area and there is a lot of activity. I am not surprised at all. If they have a food source and a water source, plus a reasonable amount of cover, that’s where they are going to go.”

After he retired from a 25-year career as an investigator with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Parks decided to pursue his passion for big wild cats and started volunteering to educate the public and protect the animals.

Parks said there are going to be even more encounters due to the human encroachment.

Addressing the multiple sightings all over the county lately, Parks said the same mountain lion may appear in Rancho Palo Verte and Carveacre in Alpine and then travel to Moreno Valley and El Monte Valley in Lakeside because a mountain lion travels a lot for food and water.

“Even a distance of a few miles is nothing for a mountain lion,” said Parks.

Parks said the best tool to use during an encounter with a mountain lion is the airhorn.

“When it goes off, you wet your pants and so does the mountain lion.”

Parks also recommended a fox light for ranches and homes with pets.

Few days ago, Janie Agostiny, a resident of the Moreno Valley in Lakeside, thought it was a mountain lion who ate her 11 chickens, but a tracking camera showed it was a coyote.

Daniel Scott from Alpine had more luck with spotting real mountain lion footprints. Scott has lived in the Carveacre area for a year now, next to the Cleveland National Forest. One morning last month he found ”pretty big” animal tracks while grading his driveway. Scott doesn’t have any pets but said his neighbors do have animals.

Parks said mountain lions can be pretty bold.

“There are three things that indicate that it’s not going to be a good day for you if you encounter a mountain lion,” said Park. “If you see a mountain lion charging at you at about mock four with his mouth open, you got a problem. It’s going to be a tough day. Circling is another sign of attack – circling, close the distance, circling some more, that means they are sizing you like a leg of lamb. That’s when you get into your car, use the air horn, do what you have to do, but it’s coming. Spring crouch is the third sure sign. They can jump like 40 feet.”

The best things to do to avoid an encounter with a mountain lion are: avoid their territory at dawn and dusk, do not hike or camp alone and avoid deer catches.

In case of an encounter, Parks said people should be making loud noises, make eye contact and try to appear bigger. If the inevitable happens and the lion attacks somebody, Parks recommended to “fight like hell.”

He also recommended not to feed local deer that might wander into backyards because it will attract lions as well.

“If you feed them, they will come,” he said. “The biggest thing is food, it’s seems more so than water.”

There are between 4,000-6,000 mountain lions currently living in California and their population has been declining since 1895 when it was first recorded.

Parks said the people who claim the lion population is exploding are the same people who want most to kill them.

There have been 20 fatalities (three children) caused by mountain lions in all of the North America since 1895 with one happening in captivity, Oct. 2011.

For the sake of comparison, in the year 2000, there were 54 people killed by bee stings. Every year, 75 people die in average in hunting incidents and 150 in deer-auto collusions.

Backed by the data, Parks said there are a lot of myths out there to try and justify killing mountain lions.

“They say a mountain lion must be killed because they lost the fear of man,” he said. “When you kill an animal, you don’t instill anything in it, it’s dead. He’s not learning anything, he doesn’t go back to his home boys to tell them how bad these people are out there.”

In Southern California, the male mountain lion averages between 110 and 150 pounds and from six to eight feet, while the female is smaller at 80-130 pounds and five to seven feet long.

“These animals distinguish themselves with a really long and furry tail, a short muzzle, large paws the size of a man’s fist and a sandy, golden color with patches of white,” he said.

These are reclusive animals and especially the males, while the females are more acceptant of other mountain lions to share resources on the same territory. The mother chases the cub away when it reaches the age of 18 months and is capable of surviving in the wild on its own. A mountain lion could run 50 miles per hour in short sprints, leap horizontally 45 feet and jump vertically 22 feet. He can walk for many miles at 10 mph, swims well and sleeps for up to 16 hours per day.

Parks said this information is particularly useful for law enforcement, but also for hikers, bikers, campers or “if you do anything out in the boonies and encounter a mountain lion. I am in no way trying to diminish the fact that these are extremely capable, powerful animals.”

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