Sunday, November 29, 2015 • 06:13

Mountain lions lurking about Palomar Mountain

January 27, 2014
Sometime in the dead of the night on January 17, Doc and Ann Sowards were awakened by a commotion in their backyard chicken house located off Crestline Road on Palomar Mountain. They didn't think much more about the incident until Doc looked out the window that morning at 7:50 a.m. and said to his wife, "Wow, look at that big dog."

They both ran to the front yard to investigate only to discover the big dog Doc was referring to was actually a mountain lion.

"One was in the front yard. There were two more behind us trying to figure a way to get out, hanging onto the chickens," said Mrs. Sowards. "They were silent, constantly moving and we were in their way. There were three of them running around us. It was pretty scary."

One of the mountain lions lunged at Doc. He managed to deter the animal when it charged him by shooting birdshot at it. Then the mountain lion veered to the left and headed uphill. In their panic to flee, the other two mountain lions knocked down fencing, breaking tree branches in their path of destruction.

Described as big cats, the mountain lions stretched up to 8 feet of the Sowards' 10-foot cyclone fence. The Sowards described the mountain lions as being dark gray (their winter coloring) and appeared to be young adolescents.

"They were young and not afraid. They just looked at us," said Mrs. Sowards.

Apparently, the mountain lions were not only hungry but thirsty as well.

"They chewed around the fence and chewed off the end of the water hose. They were thirsty, looking for water," Mrs. Sowards said.

Of the Sowards' 16 chickens, two were found dead lying on the ground. The mountain lions got away with three chickens still hanging from their mouths as they frantically ran into netting then over the 10-foot fence to finally escape.

"They have been seen in a few places this last couple of years," Mrs. Sowards said.

In fact, there have been several sightings of mountain lions reported in Palomar Mountain State Park.

According to Andrew Hughan, Public Information Officer for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, there are mountain lions in all 56 counties of California. More than half of the state is mountain lion habitat.

"Mountain lions are elusive, very solitary. If you actually see one it's a treat. I have seen only one mountain lion," said Hughan. "It was dragging a 100-pound deer up a tree."

Mountain lions generally exist wherever deer, their primary prey, are abundant. They prefer deer but also eat pets and livestock if allowed. Their nature is to avoid humans but in extremely rare cases people have fallen prey to mountain lions. In 100 years there have been 17 attacks; six were fatal, according to Hughan.

"The lion is not a stalking animal. If frightened, the lion's first reaction is to defend itself," said Hughan.

Mountain lion males have a home range of 250 square miles whereas the females have a 150 square-mile range. Cubs remain with the female for one year.

For the most part, however, mountain lions try to avoid people.

"The mountain lion is more afraid of you than you are of them," said Hughan.

Mountain Lion Safety

To stay safe in mountain lion country, Andrew Hughan, Public Information Officer for the Department of Fish and Wildlife offers the following tips:

• Do not bike, jog, or hike alone.

• Don't feed deer. This attracts mountain lions.

• Deer-proof landscaping by avoiding plants that deer like to eat.

• Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.

• Don't leave small children or pets outside unattended or at dawn, dusk, night when mountain lions are most active.

• Provide covered shelters for sheep, goats and livestock.

• Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting opossums, raccoons and other potential mountain lion prey.

If encountering a mountain lion in their habitat:

• Do not approach a mountain lion.

• If you encounter a mountain lion, face the animal, make noise and wave your arms to try to look bigger.

• Throw rocks.

• Do not run.

• If attacked, fight back and stand your ground.

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