The chances of spotting a mountain lion in Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve are 1 in 14,774, according to data from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, which manages the popular resource. A resident mountain lion family recently stacked the odds in favor of observation, however, through bold behavior resulting in more than 20 sightings last month and the temporary closure of trails.
“The mountain lions are on and near the trails, and they just aren’t showing fear of people, kind of nonchalantly walking across the trail close to the visitors,” said Leigh Ann Gessner, Midpen public affairs specialist.
A viral video one visitor took of the mother and two of her three cubs shows the youngsters playfully scampering after her as she saunters along a preserve trail. The unusual footage contributed to Midpen’s decision to close trails including Wildcat Loop, High Meadow, Upper High Meadow, Upper Wildcat Canyon and Upper Rogue Valley followed by the entire preserve last weekend. By Thursday, all trails reopened.
Midpen officials and volunteers conducted community outreach during the last two weeks of August to educate the public about the threat and recommended reactions to an encounter. A table set up Aug. 28 near the convergence of the preserve service road with the Lower Meadow Trail featured brochures, maps of sightings and Reggie, a taxidermied male mountain lion from Ukiah legally killed in 1996 due to his propensity to dine on livestock.
Senior resource management specialist Julie Andersen and docent June Cancell spoke with passersby and helped some pose for photos with the ever-accommodating Reggie.
“The lions will be back,” Andersen said. “The whole idea is for people to understand what to do.”
The cubs, estimated to be between 9 and 12 months old, are learning to hunt, Andersen said. By the time they’re 18 months old, they should be prepared to leave mom, though young females sometimes remain and share her territory.
Sunnyvale resident Mike Carlile stopped for a chat with Andersen and Cancell near the culmination of his hike.
“It’s a good heads-up that, hey, it’s not a funny situation,” Carlile said. “It’s a serious situation, how those cats are behaving, and obviously there’s an issue of them becoming too comfortable around people, so until we get that resolved or the cats relocated, something, you know, has to change.”
During the height of the scare, representatives from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife placed deer carcasses at strategic locations to attract the family.
They hoped to trap the mother, tranquilize her, collar her and then implement some humane hazing techniques including subjecting her to loud noises to make her wary of humans, said Midpen ranger Jeff Smith. It seems she turned her nose up at the bait, however.
While the lions have since relocated to less-used areas of the preserve on their own, it’s possible they could migrate to more populated ones again and force the closure of trails.
Should they return, Midpen officials urge visitors who see them to use common sense.
“Selfies with Reggie are fine, but don’t take selfies with real mountain lions,” Smith said.
Tips for staying safe in cougar country
• Don’t travel alone.
• Avoid visiting the open-space preserve at times when mountain lions are most active: dawn, dusk and night.
• Watch small children.
• Do not wear headphones.
Recommended actions during puma encounters
• Do not approach the mountain lion.
• Do not turn your back or run from the animal.
• Face the lion, make noise and attempt to appear imposing by standing tall, waving arms and throwing objects.
• Pick up small children without bending over.
• If attacked, fight back.
For more information, including about future Midpen trail closures, visit openspace.org.