A 36-pound male mountain lion cub, seen on the fringes of Mission Viejo several times since Friday night, was captured by Orange County and state wildlife officials Tuesday morning at the northern edge of Lake Mission Viejo.
The area is surrounded by houses and condominiums, but is only 1 miles from the edge of O'Neill Regional Park, which has been closed for 11 weeks after mountain lions were repeatedly seen there. The county park is scheduled to reopen March 13.
The area where the cougar cub was found is also about five miles from an Orange County wilderness park where two children were mauled by mountain lions last year.
Guards at the entrance to the lake's parking lot spotted the cub at about 10 a.m. Tuesday. They said it was inside the parking lot's 6-foot-tall chain-link fence, which runs along Olympiad Road near Marguerite Parkway and has thick shrubbery planted beside it.
As nearby motorists and residents paused and watched the hunt, the cub was shot with a tranquilizer dart and turned over to state Department of Fish and Game officials. The cub was taken to the Wildlife Waystation in the San Fernando Valley, where it will be kept until a zoo can be found as a permanent home, state officials said.
Larry Sitton, an associate wildlife biologist for the Department of Fish and Game, said the cub is about 6 months old and "is much too young to survive on its own." He said that in a suburban setting, "he represents more of a threat to himself than to people." At worst, he said, "it might scratch or take a nip" at someone who tried to block its escape.
He said it usually takes "a rather drastic event" to separate a mother from a cub this young but that it is not uncommon for mother lions to be killed or disabled by accidents in the wild. He said the cub appeared to be in good condition and well fed.
Sitton said the discovery of the cub will not affect the department's estimate of the mountain lion population in the region--six to eight lions per 100 square miles.
That estimate was made after a 5-year-old El Toro girl and a 6-year-old Huntington Beach boy were mauled by mountain lions in separate attacks last year in the county's Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park east of San Juan Capistrano.
That park was closed and has since reopened with new regulations that ban children on hiking trails and campgrounds, require wilderness permits for all visitors and require adults to be in groups of at least two.
Similar regulations have been adopted by county park officials for O'Neill Park when it reopens.