It has been more than a week since Barbara Schoener was ambushed and killed by a mountain lion while jogging on a trail in the Northern California wilderness.
But the focus, because of the nature of the incident April 23 in the hills northeast of Sacramento, remains on cougars.
A fairly large lion attacked Schoener from behind while she jogged down the remote trail, killing her with bites to the neck and head. The lion then dragged her body 300 feet before covering it with leaves and debris.
The state, responding to concerns of citizens, finally located the animal on Sunday. Dogs treed the female lion and a marksman shot and killed it.
But the issue won't die. Parents are keeping a close watch on their children. Sightings, or alleged sightings, of mountain lions are rising sharply in rural Northern California. The attack and subsequent lion hunt has been front-page news nearly every day throughout the region.
The hunting community is using the highly publicized attack, only the latest of many recent encounters between mountain lions and humans in California, as ammunition in its drive to put lions back on the list of animals it can hunt. There has been no sport hunting for mountain lions since temporary moratoriums went into effect in 1972. A permanent ban on hunting lions, with the exception of depredation hunts for animals that harm humans, livestock or pets, went into effect in 1990 with the passage of Prop. 117.
"The animals are overrunning their ranges," said Dan Heal, chairman of the Chico-based Sportsmen's Task Force of California, an organization that represents 38 state hunting clubs.
"Hunting would make the animals more wary of man. Now the lion population has lost its fear of man. Up here in Chico, we have encounters daily. Things are so bad that people are taking things into their own hands, killing the lions and letting them lay."
A concerned public again is expressing concerns that mountain lions are finding deer and smaller animals--their natural prey--so hard to come by that they have no choice but to attack and eat humans. Some are worried that the animals are so numerous now that encounters between man and mountain lion will become common.
The attack on Schoener was by a healthy adult lion, and against an adult who was seemingly in excellent physical condition. Schoener, 40, was an avid jogger who liked to run marathons.
It was not the first such incident. On Jan. 14, 1991, an 18-year-old jogger near Idaho Springs, Colo., was running alone on a remote trail near his high school. Scott Lancaster was jumped, killed and partially consumed by a 100-pound male lion. The lion was later tracked and killed and an examination showed no signs of ill health.
"(Mountain lions) are predators and they are opportunistic," said Terry Mansfield, chief of the wildlife division for the California Department of Fish and Game. "The way lions eat livestock, they get into a flock of sheep--they may kill 30-60 sheep in one night. Not because he thinks he's going to eat it all, but because he's a predator."
Paul Beier, of the Department of Forestry and Resource Management at UC Berkeley, has documented records of 53 unprovoked attacks by cougars on humans in the United States and Canada from 1890 to 1990. In an appendix to the report in 1992, Beier said, "There is no substantial evidence that habituation (to humans) has played a role in any particular attack nor in the general recent increase in attacks."
Mansfield, who has done extensive research on mountain lions, discounted the theory that they are responding to a decrease in the numbers of deer in California. Deer herds are at an all-time low.
"Their primary food item is deer, but they can eat anything from ground squirrels to an ostrich in a back yard," Mansfield said. "They'll eat dogs and cats. They love porcupines, skunks, opossums and bobcats. A mature lion will even eat another lion. In coastal areas from Humboldt to Santa Barbara, wild pigs have expanded. Wild pigs are now part of their diet."
In the case of Schoener, it was discovered that the 80-pound female lion had been lactating, and state wildlife experts as of Tuesday afternoon were still searching the hills northeast of Sacramento for the lion's den.
Was the cougar merely protecting her cubs? Possibly, but not likely.
"Quite frankly, our knowledge of female lions when they're giving birth to kittens is that they usually go to a remote, rugged spot away from any disturbance to give birth," Mansfield said. "And if they are disturbed, or if you come into the area, they will often remove kittens the first night after that, so there really is no basis to the theory that this lion was defending her kittens."
Mansfield refused to speculate on what prompted the lion to attack Schoener, but he wasn't surprised that the attack took place.