An 80-pound female mountain lion found sleeping in a Valencia resident's backyard was shot to death Tuesday by state Fish and Game officials, who say the animal posed too great a threat to capture.
The incident began at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday when Lori Powers, who lives in the 23900 block of Rotunda Road, saw the lion resting on her patio, just inches from her sliding glass door.
"She looked at me, I looked at her and it just moseyed away," Powers said. "She didn't seem to care very much about me and walked up our hill."
A dozen Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and California Department of Fish and Game wardens responded to Powers' call for help. Warning residents to stay indoors, they used tracking dogs and helicopters to find the cougar, which was crouched in a cactus patch in the yard.
The lion did not move, even when confronted by the dogs.
With bloodhounds baying in the background, a game warden fired three blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun into the animal.
A veterinarian from the Los Angeles Zoo angrily protested that the officers on the scene were "trigger-happy," saying that if they had waited a few more minutes, he could have tranquilized the cougar with a drugged dart and saved its life.
But according to Lt. Tony Warrington of the Fish and Game Department, there was no choice but to shoot the big cat after attempts to drive it into an open area and tree it failed.
"We do have dart guns, but we didn't want this cat running around through the neighborhood," Warrington said. "We didn't want to shoot it. But our policy is, if we can't get the cat treed, then the safest thing is to dispatch it."
Gary Kuehn, the zoo veterinarian, and his assistant Jeanette Tonnies, said they heard about the mountain lion from a friend in the Fire Department. They called the Sheriff's Department to alert deputies that they were rushing to help capture it, Tonnies said.
"We were only several minutes away," Kuehn said. "We were all set to dart [the lion] until someone got trigger-happy."
But Fish and Game authorities said they often find themselves in a no-win situation when they try to capture mountain lions, bears, bobcats or other large predators alive. They said they are seen as villains when an animal is destroyed, but that otherwise they risk injury to themselves or others.
In 1986, a mountain lion attacked 5-year-old Laura Small in a wilderness park in Orange County, leaving her partially paralyzed and blind in one eye. Orange County lost a $2-million lawsuit in which it was judged negligent for failing to post warnings that lions might lurk in the park.