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On The Prowl – Outdoor Enthusiast Records Mountain Lion Sighting Near Pioneer

Reprinted with permission from Amador Ledger-Dispatch

Ben Nuckolls is something of a photography hobbyist, especially when it comes to surrounding wildlife. So when he visited his brother-in-law’s home in Pioneer recently, Nuckolls did what he normally does: Plant a remote trail camera at the southern end of his relative’s property and set it to record motion.

Nuckolls normally retrieves his camera to find that it’s snapped images of squirrels, deer or the occasional fox. But on March 10, at 7 p.m. and then again at 8:19 p.m., Nuckolls’ camera captured images of a sleek, tawny-colored mountain lion stalking deliberately through the woods behind his brother-in-law’s home, which sits just off Sugar Pine Drive.

"In all the years that I have been setting my cameras up, I have only filmed mountain lions twice," Nuckolls told the Ledger Dispatch via e-mail. "They seem to be elusive and camera shy."

"My purpose in writing this is not to scare people of Amador County, just a reminder to be self aware of our surroundings as spring is near and local wildlife becomes more active," he added.

Two weeks before capturing these images on film, just after a late February snowfall, Nuckolls noticed mountain lion tracks in the thin layer of snow blanketing the area around his brother-in-law’s property.

"Caution should always be used when having small kids or pets outside," advised Nuckolls, a self-described outdoor enthusiast. "Negative interaction between mountain lions and humans is still rare, but good judgement and common sense are best when enjoying the outdoors."

The California Department of Fish and Game backs up his claim. Between 1890 and 2007, there have only been 16 verified mountain lion attacks on humans in the state, six of those fatal. The closest was a fatal attack of a 40-year-old woman at the Auburn State Recreation Area in El Dorado County in April 1994. Four verified mountain lion attacks on humans have occurred this decade – three of them in 2004. Three were in state parks and one in a national forest. Only one, a June 2004 attack of a 35-year-old male at the Whiting Ranch Regional Park in Orange County, proved deadly.

Fish and Game logs hundreds of wildlife incident reports annually related to mountain lion sightings. On average, fewer than 3 percent of these reports result in a mountain lion being identified as an imminent threat to public safety and killed under the DFG’s Wildlife Public Safety Guidelines.

In 2008, only three of the 381 reported mountain lion incidents resulted in Fish and Game trapping and killing the mountain lion for public safety reasons.

In Amador County, a mountain lion’s reported attack on a shar-pei earlier this month didn’t bring intervention from the state agency.

As for Nuckolls, he plans on planting his camera and documenting whatever animals happen to prowl before his lens.

"I live in Sacramento and have set my camera up all over parts of California," he said. "I am an avid outdoorsman and like to try and document native wildlife in California. Just a hobby and every time I check my camera I learn something new."