Last week in the sleepy town of Santa Paula, California a mountain lion wandered into someone's backyard and after a brief standoff was killed by the police. Mountain lions are protected in this state mostly due to Proposition 117 which passed in 1990 and banned mountain lion trophy hunting. However, the Department of Fish and Game does issue what are known as depredation permits which allows the killing of these animals under certain conditions, usually when they pose a danger to livestock or people. Since there had been no attacks reported, no one had been hurt, no pets had been eaten, I was curious as to why the Santa Paula policeman deemed it necessary to shoot the cub.
To find out, I called the Santa Paula Chief of Police, Steve MacKinnon and asked him what had happened to make the officers fear for their safety. He told me that even though this was a young lion, he still had big claws and could be dangerous. I suggested that if they were so scared, why didn't they just, you know, get in their cars or something? McKinnon said that he wouldn't discuss the tactics of his officers but that they made a decision that the cub presented an imminent danger to them and the community. At the time we spoke, it was reported that the cub weighed in at a "hefty" 35 pounds (about poodle size) and that it had "advanced" on a resident.
The problem is that this vicious mountain lion was actually just a cub, a 6 to 12-week-old baby weighing no more than 10 pounds. I found this out from a source close to the Santa Paula PD. The cub hadn't hurt anyone, but the police claimed that he was a threat and instead of waiting for the Department of Fish and Game to come do their job (which is relocating the animal out of the yard) the police went ahead and shot him. Three times.
Exactly how much damage could a cub that size do to a full grown man? And besides, if given the chance, that baby lion would have soon made his way out of that yard and back to his mama. Also, why did the police at the scene initially fudge the size of this defenseless kitten in their report? A big guy with a big gun versus a 10 pound cub; I guess that wouldn't go over too well with most people.
We almost killed off all of the California mountain lions, also known as cougars, by the 1970's. There may be four or five thousand cougars left in the state but no one knows for sure because they are solitary animals who make it a point of staying away from humans. They are easily frightened away by people and that may explain why there have only been 4 lethal attacks on humans in over 100 years (since they started keeping records). At least 15 people are killed every year by someone's pet dog. Since 1990 and the passing of Prop 117, over 2000 mountain lions have been killed. We are so intolerant, so easily stirred up when we see one of these beautiful creatures in our streets or backyards that we shoot first and ask questions later.
To quote one of the newspapers about this story, "Mountain lion sightings in communities backed up against a forest are always possible." Really? You build homes near a forest and there might be wildlife. Imagine that.
As we continue to encroach into the forests, up the hills, into the mountains, we continue to displace hundreds of thousands of creatures that have lived for a millennium in harmony with their surroundings. Never taking more than they need, never destroying, defiling or annihilating other species. And they only have instinct to go on. We on the other hand have free will and the ability to reason. We can make conscience choices and decide to let the cougar kittens and the other woodland creatures live in peace. Or we can just kill them all so we don't have to worry what will wander into our yards the next time around.