A 100-pound male mountain lion rests in a cage at the Serrano Animal and Bird… (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
Park officials have reopened a south Orange County wilderness park after state wildlife officials lured and trapped a male mountain lion repeatedly seen roaming the same area in recent days.
The 100-pound mountain lion, which was captured in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park early Tuesday, will be kept in captivity indefinitely, though officials hope to eventually relocate the animal.
"We didn't feel comfortable leaving it," said Capt. Dan Sforza of the Department of Fish and Game, who said the mountain lion was exhibiting "very unusual behavior" and appeared abnormally unfazed by humans. Initially, park officials thought the cat was a mother with kittens nearby. It turned out to be a male.
A Fish and Game warden summoned to the park Monday spotted the mountain lion on Serrano Cow Trail, a favorite route for mountain bikers. The warden shot the animal with beanbag rounds, and after that failed, a pepper ball. Finally, it skulked into some brush.
"This is not the type of behavior we like to see in a lion," Sforza said.
The warden baited a metal cage and shortly after midnight Tuesday, the mountain lion was trapped.
While the wilderness park is now open, Serrano Cow Trail remains closed. Officials are concerned the animal is young enough that it could have been traveling with a mother or sibling. Additional cameras have been set up in the foothills.
In the meantime, a Lake Forest veterinarian who examined the mountain lion reported that everything seemed normal.
The cat was first spotted July 7, when about a dozen mountain bikers on Serrano Cow Trail saw it in the underbrush. The bikers stopped long enough to snap photos of the animal, which made no attempt to run off, said Marisa O'Neil, a spokeswoman for the county's parks department.
A second sighting and the discovery of fresh tracks in a nearby creek bed two days later prompted rangers to close the trail and set up a video camera.
But no new activity was detected, and the trail was reopened Friday. Then, over the weekend, a video posted on YouTube showed a coyote barking at a mountain lion, which prompted officials to close the entire park and contact Fish and Game on Monday.
Mountain lion attacks in California are rare — since 1890 there have been only 17, six of which were fatal. The last confirmed attack occurred earlier this month, when a 63-year-old man was mauled in his tent in the Sierras.
In 2004, a 120-pound lion killed one bicyclist and mauled another at the park, just a couple of miles north of Serrano Cow Trail. Authorities shot and killed the cat the same afternoon. It was the state's first fatal mountain lion attack in a decade.
Officials advise anyone who encounters a mountain lion to make themselves appear big, make a lot of noise and not turn away. "We're lucky to have wilderness areas like this in Orange County to enjoy," O'Neil said, "but people need to be aware that they're in a natural habitat."
Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.