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Rainfall may help keep mountain lions away, experts say

September 24, 2007|Ashraf Khalil | Times Staff Writer

Homeowners along Los Angeles-area foothills concerned about the rare but frightening attacks by mountain lions on household pets may find relief in rainfall and their own precautionary measures, experts say.

When deer and other animals approach residential areas in search of food and water, the mountain lions that feed on them are more likely to follow them closer to homes, experts say.

"A lot of our streams and creeks have dried up," said Christa Kermode, a field representative for the Mountain Lion Foundation, a nonprofit organization.

"Predators follow their prey, so if the prey is coming down, the predators are coming down."

And once drawn near neighborhoods, experts say, most lions won't overlook a chance for an opportunistic kill if they encounter a domesticated and fenced-in pet.

Two fatal mountain lion attacks on dogs, including a 60-pound Labrador mix, occurred in August in La Crescenta and Altadena. It remains unclear whether the same animal killed both dogs, authorities said, but the attacks occurred about six miles apart.

"Like most predators, if they see prey that's in front of them and they can pick off an easy meal, they'll do it," said Kyle Orr, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game.

Adult male mountain lions can weigh 120 to 150 pounds and females 65 to 80 pounds, Orr said.

Occasional mountain lion sightings are a fact of life for foothill residents, whose backyards abut the creatures' habitat.

"The community is right up against the hills," said Sgt. Scott Gibson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's Crescenta Valley station.

"It's getting to be more common."

In February 2006, a mountain lion made national news when it wandered into an Altadena neighborhood. A several-hour standoff ensued, complete with swarming news helicopters and live television coverage. Authorities locked down nearby Edison Elementary School for four hours before the cat was tranquilized and taken away.

Authorities advise foothill-area homeowners to keep their pets indoors, especially at night, and to avoid leaving pet food or water bowls outside. Birdbaths, kiddie pools and other standing water sources could also attract lions or animals that they prey on, such as deer.

Residents are also advised to grow plants that deer don't like, such as Spanish lavender, California laurel, goldenrod and honeysuckle.

Rain, which can nourish the region's parched plant life, may also help keep animals in the mountains and away from homes, authorities said.

The Department of Fish and Game estimates that California has between 4,000 and 6,000 mountain lions.

Orr called them extremely strong "top-of-the-line predators." Deer are their favorite prey, but they will also attack goats, sheep, cats, dogs, raccoons and, "on very rare occasions," horses, he said.

Mountain lion attacks on people are rare. State records show that since 1890, 14 verified mountain lion attacks on 16 humans have occurred in California, resulting in six fatalities. The records show several periods with no verified attacks, including none between 1909 and 1986.

In January, a man was attacked while hiking in Humboldt County. His wife drove the lion off with a tree branch and ballpoint pen, Orr said, and "most likely saved her husband's life."

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ashraf.khalil@latimes.com

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