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Mountain lion facts and safety

Mountain Lion Foundation

As many of The Loop newspaper readers know, we share our county with a variety of wildlife residents, including bears, bobcats and mountain lions. There have recently been several reports of mountain lion sightings, some confirmed and some not, in various areas of the county.

Mountain lions living in Kern County is certainly nothing new. They have been here forever, long before we were. While some residents may fear there is some sort of "explosion" in the lion populations, experts with the Mountain Lion Foundation in Sacramento, and other organizations involved with the cats, advise us that is not the case. In fact, they point out that due to numerous factors – nearly all caused by humans – the cats may vanish from some parts of California, particularly in Southern California, within the next 10 years.

They advise that due to continued, relentless encroachment on mountain lion territory, the cats have nowhere to go or nowhere to be except where humans are. Thus cat/human encounters will continue in spite of the cats' natural inclination to avoid humans. The current drought situation only makes this matter worse as it drives both cats and their food sources to locations where water can be found, often near humans.

"Wildlife biologists know mountain lions are vital and invaluable. It is a keystone species playing an irreplaceable and complex role on the landscape. Lions exist in low densities and are self-regulating which means they control their own population size in balance with the ecosystem without the need for human intervention. Top carnivores help maintain the plants and animals within their range. Mountain lions keep deer herds on the move so that they do not overgraze in any particular area. This behavioral change results in less erosion along riverbanks and increases habitat for other species like songbirds. Ecosystems with lions are healthier, more sustainable, and contain a richer balance of nature." Credit http://www.mountainlion.org/about-mountain-lions/frequently-asked-questions/

The experts also point out that what often attracts the cats is easy access to food. Lions typically eat deer but also also dine on coyotes, raccoons, rodents, elk, feral hogs and even porcupines. However, farm and hobby animals, particularly goats and sheep that are afforded little protection, are easy pickings. In these cases where basic scare devices like lights, noise making devices or sprinklers aren't employed, it presents an open invitation to a hungry mountain lion to get an easy meal, one that cannot escape the enclosure and run away. The experts also point out that the cats are extremely capable animals. Simple fences meant to keep animals in won't keep a mountain lion out. A 15 foot vertical leap for a mountain lion is nothing unusual.

Many of the recommended protections, deterrents and information on better and more effective pens and enclosures can be found on the Mountain Lion Foundation website, http://www.mountainlion.org. These deterrents include hand-held air horns, motion activated water sprinklers and noisemakers, motion activated scarecrows, flashing lights, and recordings of barking dogs and even radio "talk shows."

All residents are advised that if a mountain lion is encountered, the most effective action to deter the cat is to stand fast, don't turn or run, look BIG and make LOTS of noise, yell, wave arms, wave a jacket, and if rocks or other items can be reached without crouching down, throw said items at the cat. Keeping air horns within easy reach at home and in your vehicle is also recommended. It should be noted that an attack on a human by mountain lions is a very rare occurrence.

Kern County residents are reminded that in California, mountain lions are a protected species and various laws and California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) policies are in place to protect the cats from trophy hunting, poaching and any killing of a cat that is not properly warranted. CDFW has a "3 Step" process which requires owners of farm and hobby animals to proactively protect pets and livestock to deter a mountain lion before a permit to kill a mountain lion will be considered.

For more important information about mountain lions, especially to separate fact from fiction, go to the Mountain Lion Foundation website, http://www.mountainlion.org.