PALOS VERDES ESTATES — When a Palos Verdes Drive West resident pulled out of his long driveway in the early morning darkness a week ago, his headlights illuminated something that he thought belonged in a zoo, not on a city street.
What the driver saw "appeared to be a cougar," said Police Sgt. Ed Jaakola, who said a police canine officer who went out to inspect the area came across tracks that could have been made by a cougar. "But we're not experts."
Officers from the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals hiked through the area but did not see a cougar or any other wild cat, according to the humane organization.
The resident who called police could not be reached. Jaakola said he believes the animal was an exotic pet that got loose.
Cougar Could Not Survive
"There's no way a cougar could have survived up here for any number of years without being seen," he said. "There's not that much open land, especially on the west side of the Hill."
A check by the California Department of Fish and Game disclosed no permits in the Palos Verdes Peninsula cities to keep big cats such as tigers, lions, cougars, ocelots or bobcats, officials said.
However, despite the lack of official permits for such animals, SPCA operations director Donald Anderson said there have been reports that some are kept as pets on the Peninsula.
Like Jaakola, he believes the animal is a pet on the loose.
"There are no native wild cougars in the area," he said. "The animal is apparently well-fed, because we have no calls of any mutilation that we would think might be from a cougar."
Cougar, puma and mountain lion are interchangeable terms. The animals generally weigh between 30 and 50 pounds and can be reach more than five feet in length, excluding the tail, which is two to three feet long.
Anderson said that even in the wild, they normally do not attack humans.
"They really are quite frightened of people and shy away, but people should not approach one," he said.
However, a 5-year-old girl and a 6-year-old boy were mauled by cougars in two separate attacks this year in the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park east of San Juan Capistrano in Orange County. A female cougar was killed after the attack on the girl, which left her partly paralyzed and blind in one eye. At least six cougars are known to remain in the park.
Since 1900, seven people are known to have been killed by cougars in the United States and Canada.
The reported cougar sighting on Nov. 30 was the first in Palos Verdes Estates.