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Mountain lion sightings increase in Sonoma County

  • Photo courtesy Creative Commons

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
July 20, 2018

After several mountain lion sightings throughout Sonoma County parks earlier this month experts are saying sightings of the big cat are not usual; however, hikers and homeowners should brush up on some important lion safety tips.

In the early weeks of July Sonoma County deputies reported several lion sightings in Foothill Regional Park in Windsor. A few weeks later another lion was seen ambling around, investigating a trampoline in a Sebastopol backyard. Additionally, the city of Healdsburg reported an alleged sighting in the South Fitch Mountain area July 8.

Whether we like it or not, encountering wildlife is a part of Sonoma County living and Quinton Martins, who studies mountain lions at Audubon Canyon Ranch, says the chance of encountering a cat is very slim and the recent sightings are most likely due to people spending more time outdoors during the long summer days.

“I suspect that people are more active this time of year and are out and about later so there is an increased chance in encountering these cats since they move around in the evening and early in the morning,” Martins explained. 

Martins also mentioned the areas where the cats are being spotted are all locations where you can expect to spot one — regional parks or even private property with plenty of brush and sources of food.

“If there is a good habitat there then you may expect one,” Martins said.

The Voice asked residents on Facebook if any Rohnert Park-Cotati locals have spotted a cat in their area; however, there were no comments in response to the inquiry.

When asked of Martins if the Crane Creek regional park area would be a habitable place for mountain lions, he said the barren, rolling hills landscape would be more conducive to a coyote habitat.

Yet lions do have an enormous range of territory, about 42 square miles for females and 100-200 square miles for males, meaning hiking trails and even private properties can intersect their home, making a sighting more likely.

Fortunately, the recent sightings have been just that, sightings, and Martins says you are more likely to get injured or die in a car crash than in a mountain lion attack.

According to the most recent (2014) statistics from the Insurance Information Institute, an individual has about a 1 in 114 chance of being killed in a car accident. Whereas, the odds for death by mountain lion are quite lower. 

As reported by the Bay Area Puma Project you are 500 times more likely to drown in your own bathtub.

“In the whole of America, about 20 people have been killed in the past 100 years,” Martins said.

In California there have been 18 verified attacks since 1880 and only nine deaths since 1890, according to statistics compiled by the BAPP.

Despite slim chances of an attack, Martins says it is a good idea to keep some important safety tips in mind, such as never hiking alone, keeping an eye on children and making yourself look big if you come upon a lion on the trail.

The national parks service also says it is important to never run away from a lion as it can trigger their instinct to chase. Instead, hold your ground, face the lion standing upright and back away slowly. Make noise, throw rocks or sticks and fightback if you need to.

“It is always important to be vigilant,” Martins said.   

Currently Martins is working in conjunction with the Audubon Canyon Ranch to track seven different cats with GPS collars and over the course of study Martins and his team have hypothesized that the cats are starting to have a preference to roaming in private land. Fenced in yards or properties can sometimes be an advantage to hunting down prey who have nowhere to run.

That is why it is also important to keep small pets or even livestock locked up or kept in an enclosed pen so they face less of a risk of becoming mountain lion dinner. 

In general, the lions are populated in low density throughout the county according to Martins and if you do spot one, they are usually just passing through.

“They are solitary, territorial predators (and like to keep to themselves),” Martins said