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Mountain Lion Spotted in Amador City

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By Jim Reece/Amador Ledger Dispatch : Dr. Jeanie B. Nugent, a Sutter Hill chiropractor, said Wednesday that a mountain lion has been sleeping in a tree in the backyard of her Amador City home, on the east side of Highway 49.

She said the big cat has been chasing neighbors´ cats and has taken up residence in her big oak, sleeping hours there. She first noticed it when the lion actually jumped from out of nowhere, possibly the tree, chased a neighbor´s cat and actually brushed past her leg.

This occurred Saturday afternoon, Nugent said, when she was carrying a lawn chair from her backyard to a more front area of the yard. The lion then chased the cat three times around the neighbor´s house.

“I didn´t see the cat anymore so I figured she caught it,” Nugent said.

She showed digital photos of the smallish mountain lion, lying on the biggest branch of the oak, its eyes glowing blue in the afternoon light. The perch was just above a paved spot where here two lawn chairs sat. She pointed out the scuffs in the lawn where the lion had scratched by.

“The thing is, I want people to know that it is comfortable in the city,” Nugent said.

“I say I live in the city, but this is pretty sprawling,” Nugent said, driving down a road to a ranch where she keeps her horse. The pigs and chicken and an expected foal are sure to be prime hunting food for the lion, she said. And she thinks food left out for pets in the area is attracting other animals and may have brought the lion.

She spoke with the California Fish and Game Department, which said there is not much they can do besides shoot the lion if it is dangerous or damages property. She said she would rather have it relocated and does not want the animal shot, but the department said they cannot relocate problem lions.

“For every one you see, there´s 10 you don´t see,” Nugent said she was told by game authorities. Nugent said she fears for the safety of neighborhood elderly citizens, children and animals and wants them to be aware of the big cat.

“They normally don´t live in the tree in the back yard,” said Dale Whitmore, a Marysville biologist for State Fish and Game. If the animal won´t run from people, they are considered dangerous.

“If you went outside and it didn´t leave, then it would be a problem,” he said.

Bizarre behavior, like if the cat sits on a sidewalk and watches people, can be a problem that is handled with a depreditation license: shooting the animal.

Nugent said she stood with four other people, taking pictures of the mountain lion on Tuesday afternoon. It laid there awhile, but the flashes seemed to have urged it to leave.

Whitmore said among the things to do when encountering a mountain lion, the first is do not run from it. What you should do it raise your arms, open your jacket, make noise and make yourself appear larger.

“Anything you can do to intimidate it is certainly helpful,” he said.

Hunting pets in their own yard could also be a danger sign, while cats, semi-wild themselves can venture into wild areas and in effect “make themselves a prey item,” Whitmore said.

The last relocation attempt of a lion was about three years ago, when after killing sheep in Roseville, the male lion was moved to Sierra County, he said. The habitat, full of male lions, forced it to move. It crossed the Central Valley to the Sutter Buttes and ended up in the coastal hills, where it again killed sheep. He was eventually killed with a depreditation license.

“So it doesn´t pay to move lions,” Whitmore said.

Regarding the number of lions in the area, he said they are territorial, so there is probably not very many more. The territory of a male is typically 100 square miles but “as many as 10 adult males occupy the same 100 square miles.

“That´s a 10-mile by 10-mile area,” he said, or approximately one per 10 square miles.

He said lion attacks are “very rare,” with only 10-15 reported over the last 80-100 years.

Amador County is in Fish and Game Region 2, which has a main office in Rancho Cordova. The region is covered by 31 wardens.

The mountain lion is a protected mammal, since the 1990 state-wide passage of Proposition 117, creating a law making it illegal to kill the cats. The law, section 4800 of Fish and Game code, can only be changed by a four-fifths majority of the Legislature.

The law carries penalties of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $10,000, or both, for unlawfully killing a mountain lion. It is enforced by state wardens. In a legally justified killing of a cat, she said, self-defense or the defense of others must be proved

Reprinted with Permission from Amador Ledger Dispatch