Burbank Mountain Lion Sightings Focus of Community Meeting

By On February 10, 2014

Mountain lion sightings near the DeBell Golf Course, the Burbank Hills and Halston Estates area are becoming nearly a daily event. In addition, a recent mountain lion attack on a family pet has many residents on edge.

On Saturday morning, Burbank Animal Shelter Superintendent Brenda Castaneda and Senior Animal Control Officer Stacie Levin brought residents of the Halston Estates together with J.C. Healy, Game Warden with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for a community meeting to discuss both the reality of living with wild animals as well as how to best protect themselves from potential attacks.

First is Namrata Cooper, President of the Halston Estates Homeowner’s Association

Namrata Cooper, President of the Halston Estates Homeowner’s Association

Namrata Cooper, President of the Halston Estates Homeowner’s Association, who has also seen the mountain lion herself, is concerned. “There have been consistent sightings in the area over the past three weeks,” Cooper noted, “including several sightings of a female [lion] with her cub.”

David J. Riherd, a senior biologist and Executive Director of the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar, assured residents that mountain lions have no interest in people, with their primary source of food being mule deer. In fact, Riherd noted that since mountain lion attacks have been recorded in California, there are only six fatal attacks on humans. “We are not prey,” advised Riherd.

Healy also explained that recent attacks on people, such as the recent attack on a homeless person near Perris, are extremely rare and nearly always have some mitigating circumstance.

Are We In Danger?  How Do We Stay Safe?

Local residents, as expected, had many questions about not only mountain lions, but also how to best protect themselves from a mountain lion attack.  Sheila Jayraj, a resident whose property abuts the mountainside, had many concerns, including what should her family do if a lion enters the property, child safety and how to avoid any contact.

Other residents provided eyewitness accounts of their encounters with lions, including a recent encounter where a couple of young people observed a lion perched on top of a pedestal near a neighbor’s driveway. Of particular concern was the observation the lion appeared to be comfortable around humans and did not immediately depart the area.

Tim, a resident on Castleman Lane, provided cell phone video of a lion on his property.

Other recent sightings at DeBell Golf Course, which may or may not be the same animal, have raised tension, in particular from residents with children and animals.

Riherd and Healy provided additional guidance, including explanations of why the lion may be in the area, and how to protect yourself both in the event of an encounter as well as for the long term.

The Verdugo Mountains are a natural territory for wildlife, and that includes coyote, bobcats, mountain lions, and deer. Mountain lions are very territorial, and the area of the Verdugo Mountains, while fairly small, is large enough to support a male mountain lion and possibly one or two females.

The mountain lions may favor one area based on several factors, including the presence of “attractors” which are mainly easy sources of food. As deer are the favorite food of mountain lions, it can be expected the animals will stalk deer where the deer live.

In recent years, deer populations have continued to grow near urban areas, perhaps due to easy access to food and feeling comfortable around humans within residential areas. The deer will look for easy food, and well-watered lawns, golf courses and surrounding areas are a good place to live.

Of course, predators such as coyotes and mountain lions will follow their food source.

In addition, some predators will develop a taste for other animals, such as family dogs. In particular, if a pet is in an enclosed yard, the pet has no real defense against the predator and the predator can easily grab the pet and run off into the mountains.

JC Healy, Game Warden with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

J.C. Healy, Game Warden with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Healy explained that mountain lions are great athletes, able to easily “jump a 6 or 10 foot fence” to grab its prey.

Healy also noted that relocating the animal is not a good solution, as it will result in either simply passing the problem on to a different area or cause a major disruption in the new territory as male mountain lions fight to assert their “ownership” of the new territory.

He also admitted that mountain lions are “apex predators,” with no natural enemies, and are extremely difficult to track and trap. “They are smarter than us,” joked Healy. In reality, given the fact mountain lions will only eat their own kill, traditional methods of trapping such as leaving out food or other similar methods simply do not work.

The best thing the community can do, according to Healy and Riherd, is to eliminate attractors. In particular, make the neighborhood an unpleasant place for the mountain lion to enter. Methods which may work include motion sensitive lighting, as mountain lions are shy and do not like being in the “spotlight.” Whenever a mountain lion is encountered, consistent with safety, make loud noises, honk automobile horns, greet the lion with loud boat horns, shoot it with paint balls (DO NOT use a firearm unless your life or property is at immediate risk) or employ anything else that will encourage the animal to leave.

Levin offered some additional tips. Mountain lions are most active from dusk till dawn. When walking the trails, or if you are out at night on neighborhood streets, carry a boat horn, an expandable umbrella, and anything else that can make you look big. “And don’t wear earphones when walking at night, enjoy the evening, nature, and be aware of your surroundings.”

She also warned that if you do encounter a mountain lion, face it down and do not turn and run.  Running, while a natural reaction of most people when going nose to nose with anything frightening, may “trigger an attack response” by a mountain lion.

David J. Riherd, a senior biologist and Executive Director of the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar

David J. Riherd, a senior biologist and Executive Director of the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar

The community had many questions, provided many personal encounter stories and supported a basic desire that the mountain lion not be harmed. At the same time, the neighborhood wants to enjoy a high quality of life without feeling under siege by the animal.

The answer continues to return to the reality if we reduce the attractors, the lion will likely favor another location.

Riherd provided additional ideas to reduce attractors, including:

  • Don’t attract deer – make your yard and neighborhood equally unpleasant for the herd
  • Don’t leave food outside – that attracts mountain lion prey
  • Ensure brush clearance around your property – mountains lions cannot hide in a cleared area
  • If you encounter a mountain lion make yourself look as big as possible – a mountain lion does not want to risk an encounter which may result in injury

Inform Animal Control If You Encounter a Mountain Lion

Levin noted that many people probably do not notify Animal Control when they encounter a mountain lion. Knowing where and when mountain lions are sighted will help better understand the animal’s profile, as well as monitor the animal’s behavior.

If you do encounter a mountain lion, please record the following information and give the Animal Control officer or the Burbank Animal Shelter a call at 818-238-3340.

  1. Where you encountered the mountain lion
  2. Time you encountered the mountain lion
  3. The mountain lion’s actions
  4. Your actions
  5. If there was an actual attack
  6. If you have any photos or other evidence of the encounter
  7. Any other associated information

Of course, if it is an emergency dial 911.