New California State Law Saves Mountain Lion Cub

CDFW vets examine the Buellton puma cub | Photo: CDFW

An apparently orphaned mountain lion cub found in Santa Barbara County seems to be the first beneficiary of a new law regulating how law enforcement officers may respond to reports of the big predators in populated areas.

According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, a mountain lion cub about the size of a big housecat was taken into custody by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) after being spotted in a Buellton residence's backyard on January 3. The apparently orphaned 15-pound kitten was delivered to a wildlife center in Los Angeles, and CDFW will be determining what the critter's future holds.

The sighting and capture took place two days after a new state law went into effect requiring non-lethal control of pumas that don't pose a threat to public safety. The law, SB 132, was written after two 13-pound puma kittens were killed by law enforcement officers in the Bay Area in 2012.

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The bill was signed into law by Governor Brown in September.

The reports of the Buellton kitten grossly inflated the animal's size and threat to local humans. The first reports to the Sheriff's Department pegged the animal at about 90 pounds, six times its actual size. That's not unusual: tales abound in wildlife enforcement circles of reports of large pumas that turn out to have been bobcats, domestic cats, or pet dogs.

But such inflated reports can predispose first responders to take more permanent measures than are really required, as happened in November 2012 when law enforcement shot and killed two mountain lions hiding under a suburban porch near Half Moon Bay in San Mateo County. The cats turned out to be two starving, 13-pound kittens that posed only a small immediate risk to public safety.

Though the new law gives police the latitude to determine whether an individual animal poses an immediate threat to the public, it also serves as a reminder that not all puma visits need to end in tragedy. The law also clarified the state's Fish and Game Code to make it less cumbersome for appropriate rehab facilities to care for pumas brought to them by CDFW.

If the Buellton kitten is indeed orphaned, it's unlikely to be returned to the wild. Young kittens must learn critical survival skills from their mothers, including the need to be wary of humans. It's unlikely that a puma kitten being cared for by humans will keep that all-important shyness. But at least this kitten will be able to live out its life in comfortable captivity rather than meeting an unpleasant and frightening end in someone's backyard.

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