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After Scare, Mountain Lion Sought

A report that two people were stalked in San Juan Capistrano prompts a warden to shoot the animal, which escapes. Area trails are closed.

September 27, 2003|David Haldane | Times Staff Writer

A mountain lion that was shot and wounded after reportedly stalking a man and his young son in San Juan Capistrano spurred a massive search by wildlife officials Friday.

Authorities said they have no choice but to destroy the mountain lion, whose unusual behavior in not running from humans made it a danger. "That's a red flag," said Capt. Jerry Spansail, a hunter with the California Department of Fish and Game who spent most of the day looking for the cat. "We're higher on the food chain than they are -- they should be afraid of us. If they're not, typically, they'll go after small women and children."

The stalking incident occurred about 6:30 p.m. Thursday, when a caretaker at the Ortega Equestrian Center -- in a relatively open area near La Novia Avenue and Calle Arroyo -- reported seeing the animal while out with his 6-year-old son. Several other people saw the mountain lion too, said Chuck Raysbrook, Fish and Game's regional manager for Southern California, creating "quite a consternation. They were seeking shelter and trying to leave the scene, [but the lion] just hung around."

The sighting, he said, was especially troubling after other incidents in the same area over the last few months, during which mountain lions had exhibited "uncharacteristic boldness." When the animal seen Thursday -- reported to be "going back and forth along a trail behind the horse stalls" -- seemed unintimidated by a state game warden sent to the area, Raysbrook said, the warden "determined that the lion was a threat to public safety" and shot it. It then fled and the search for it continues.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 30, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 80 words Type of Material: Correction
Mountain lion -- An article in the California section of Saturday's Orange County Edition about a mountain lion sought in San Juan Capistrano incorrectly attributed the following statement to Capt. Jerry Spansail of the state Department of Fish and Game: "They searched for the animal until it got too dark to continue, then resumed searching again this morning at first light. The lion could be dead; we just don't know." The comment was made by Chuck Raysbrook, another department official.

"We'll be back tomorrow," Spansail said Friday. "We are going to keep a presence."

"They searched for the animal until it got too dark to continue," he said, "then resumed searching again this morning at first light. The lion could be dead; we just don't know."

On Friday, Orange County sheriff's deputies and county animal control officers distributed leaflets to area residents warning them of the danger, while armed Fish and Game personnel using bloodhounds continued the search. As a precaution, a sheriff's spokesman said, area trails were closed to hikers and bikers. And in general, Raysbrook said, residents were urged to stay inside or travel in groups.

"I think wariness would be prudent," he said. "It's not a good idea to hike alone. Adults should supervise children, and keep them in sight."

If confronted by the mountain lion -- described as an adult weighing about 100 pounds -- "don't approach it and do not run," Raysbrook said. Make eye contact with it as an assertion of authority, he said. Refrain from crouching or bending over, and fight back if attacked.

"See if you can make yourself bigger," he said. "Raise your arms, hold your jacket over your head, throw stones or branches, speak firmly in a loud voice. The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and may be a danger to it."

Though mountain lions have been known to attack people, sometimes fatally, he said, such attacks are rare.

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