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Mountain Lion Shot, Killed in Orange County

October 07, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

After searching for more than eight days, state game wardens over the weekend shot and killed a young mountain lion reported to have stalked a child near San Juan Capistrano.

"There was something wrong about this one," Capt. Jerry Spansail, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, said Monday regarding the animal. "As much as I don't want to kill a mountain lion, I also don't want to tell a parent that a child was hurt or killed because I didn't do my job."

Spansail dismissed earlier reports that two cougars were being sought. "We now feel that there was only one all along," he said.

The cat, described as a male, about 2 years old and weighing about 75 pounds, first attracted attention Sept. 25 when people at an equestrian center near San Juan Creek told wildlife officials that the cougar had been seen stalking a caretaker and his 6-year-old son.

Dispatched to the area that night, a state game warden took a shot at the cougar after it exhibited what he described as aggressive behavior. Early the next day, Fish and Game officials mounted a full-scale search for the animal, which they believed had been wounded or killed.

"We thought we were going to find it dead" in the bush, Spansail said.

For several days, however, the cougar was not seen. Then, about 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Spansail said, searchers found its tracks near some bait they had left by the creek. For the next 2 1/2 hours, five state game wardens, a federal wildlife officer and three bloodhounds tracked the cat about a mile up the creek. Finally, he said, they cornered it in a tree and shot it about 7 a.m.

Animal officials believe it's the same cougar, Spansail said, because "this cat was followed from the spot where we had all the problems" and its paws matched the previous tracks. In addition, he said, the dead animal had a minor wound on its left side, probably caused by an earlier shot.

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