In what may turn out to be a violation of state law, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Deputies killed a juvenile mountain lion in Rancho Cucamonga (near Los Angeles, California) over the weekend.
Just before 7:00 a.m., Saturday morning, the San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department received a report of two mountain lions jumping from backyard to backyard in the 8800 block of Somerset Drive. Responding deputies from the Rancho Cucamonga station searched the neighborhood and spotted a lion climbing a fence. As they watched, the animal proceeded on its way through several backyards, until they eventually lost sight of it.
With a verified mountain lion sighting, local animal control officers and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife were contacted to assist with the situation.
About 40-minutes later, another report came into the Department of a lion in the backyard of a home in the 6300 block of Moonstone Avenue.
When Sheriff's Deputies arrived on the scene, they found a subadult female mountain lion, weighing approximately 50 to 75 pounds hiding in the backyard.
After watching the animal for a short period of time, the responding deputies decided the lion was a threat to public safety and shot it.
According to a statement from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, "The responding public safety personnel maintained a respectful and non-threatening distance to observe and assess the animal. Based on the imminent threat to public safety; at 8:19 a.m., a deputy humanely shot the mountain lion. The animal expired of the single gunshot wound immediately and a necropsy will be conducted."
Sheriff's Department Spokesperson Cindy Bachman said lethal force was used because deputies don't carry tranquilizers. "These are occupied homes, and just a few homes away from where the mountain lion was shot, there were children playing in the backyard," Bachman said.
According to Tim Dunbar, Executive Director for the Mountain Lion Foundation, "California's new mountain lion public safety law requires the use of non-lethal procedures when dealing with a mountain lion that comes into contact with humans, unless the lion displays signs of aggressive behavior. Where was the aggressive behavior? I sympathize with the dilemma these officers faced, a wild animal that might not stay contained, and no means to tranquilize it; but I'm not sure, based on the Sheriff's own statement why they couldn't wait for officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to arrive on scene and assist in the capture. Why couldn't the neighborhood have been canvassed and citizens asked to remain safely indoors until the danger had passed—as happened recently in Sacramento. The excuse of 'nearby children' has long been the standard of many police and sheriff departments to justify killing wandering lions, because they don't know how else to handle these situations."
California Department of Fish and Wildlife also has a new internal policy to advise their staff on mountain lion calls. Responding officers notify a special guidance team that assists — day or night — with decision making, calling in additional experts like local veterinarians and lion researchers, and finding an appropriate location to release the lion back into the wild. Because of the new law and CDFW's mountain lion Response Guidance Team, so far this year five potential public safety lions have been relocated back into the wild. Unfortunately, this past weekend, because a CDFW officer did not arrive on site, the team was never contacted.
As for the second lion. There have been no other sightings and canvasing deputies were unable to spot any sign of additional lions. According to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, it is "fairly certain it was one mountain lion traveling throughout this neighborhood." The young female lion likely wandered out of the adjacent Angeles National Forest.