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Cougar at Griffith Park Not Yet a Threat, Expert Says

June 08, 2004|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

A mountain lion expert who visited Griffith Park on Monday said that Los Angeles' largest urban oasis offers inviting habitat for the big cats.

Walter Boyce, director of the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center, was flown in by city officials who wanted him to determine whether a lion seen several times in recent weeks in the park was a threat to public safety.

Boyce's answer: Probably not, because the lion has never been seen acting aggressively toward people, who visit the park at the rate of 10 million a year.

He also told officials with the city Department of Recreation and Parks that they must do a better job of informing visitors of precautions they should take in cougar country.

"You have food, water and cover for the lions here," Boyce said. "I wouldn't expect an area this size to support a lion over the long haul because it's too small. But the park has a reproducing population of deer, and that's what a lion wants."

Boyce said he was particularly disturbed to see so many people walking their dogs off leash, which is against park rules and a good way to provoke a lion to attack.

Dogs and house cats have been attacked by lions throughout the state, said Boyce, who is overseeing a study of mountain lions in San Diego County. He also advised people not to hike alone and to carry cellphones.

To illustrate the strength of the animal, Boyce said that a 145-pound lion in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park once grabbed a dead 125-pound mule deer from the back of a pickup truck and dragged it away.

Jon Kirk Mukri, general manager of the city parks department, said he believes that the lion probably will leave the park on its own, if it hasn't already. In late May, a lion was seen in a neighborhood off Los Feliz Boulevard south of the park.

But Mukri also said that he will ask the state Department of Fish and Game to kill or relocate the lion should it display any dangerous behavior toward people.

Boyce also visited the old Toyon landfill in the park, where the cougar has been seen twice. The dump has been closed for years and is covered by dirt crisscrossed by bulldozer tracks.

"This is pretty bizarre," said Boyce, looking out toward Burbank and beyond to the Verdugo Mountains, where the lion may have come from. "It's a one-evening jaunt from the Verdugos to here, if a lion makes the right choices."

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