On Friday, a young mountain lion wandered into a Sunland (Los Angeles County, California) neighborhood. Despite not causing any trouble nor posing a threat to the local police officers who surrounded the cat on a bushy slope, according to reports, a responding California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) warden decided to immediately shoot the cat upon his arrival at the scene.
The lion was first spotted by local resident Marlene Hitt who says while closing her garage door Friday afternoon she "heard a bang and looked down and saw a mountain lion run out as fast as it could."
She called the police. The lion was found hiding in the nearby bushes when they showed up. Ms. Hitt says she heard five shots as the officers were attempting to scare the lion away. After hunkering down in the bushes, the police officers felt they had the cat contained and waited for wardens from CDFG to arrive.
Just weeks before, CDFG had tranquilized and relocated a 400-pound bear just a few miles away from this Sunland neighborhood. But to the surprise of many, a responding warden on this call granted no such second chance to this particular lost critter. Instead, apparently he immediately shot the 80-pound cat in the head and killed it.
CDFG officials reported the shooting of this cat was justified to protect the neighborhood, adding they could not take the risk of how the lion might potentially react to being hit with a tranquilizer dart.
According to warden Andrew Hughman, "You hit the animal, the animal becomes very agitated, very angry very quickly, and it doesn't just fall down and go to sleep, the drugs can take several minutes to activate."
Many residents were outraged and refused to accept this excuse. Some cite fish and game departments in states like Colorado and Washington who frequently and successfully relocate or haze lions away from town. There are humane alternatives. If states that allow the cats to be killed for sport are implementing non-lethal techniques, shouldn't California — the only state where lions are classified as a specially protected mammal — be just as humane?
Another contributing factor may be CDFG's public safety wildlife guidelines. This internal department policy labels all lions that wander into residential areas as imminent threats, and all animals that pose an imminent threat must be killed. Hence there is no stated wiggle room to try non-lethal measures like relocation or hazing; and once a lion has been declared a safety threat, there is no down grading this status (such as was seen in the Susanville case where even lions captured in cages were still destroyed).
The Mountain Lion Foundation is currently investigating the events surrounding the Sunland lion incident, as well as avenues for reforming CDFG's lion policies. Join us on Twitter and Facebook for the latest breaking news, or sign up to receive our electronic newsletter.