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Hills security cameras reveal bounty of beastly visitors

From snapshots of fist-sized spiders to mugshots of missing dogs, very little social media content attracts more attention than animal-related posts. 

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Courtesy of Edison Lin
Home surveillance video shows a mountain lion approaching the front door of Edison Lin’s Los Altos Hills home on Feb. 1

In Los Altos Hills, residents’ proximity to the Santa Cruz Mountain wilderness has elevated home surveillance footage of mountain lions to news-feed gold, and there’s plenty of it recently: a Feb. 1 Nest security video of a mountain lion climbing the front steps of a Summit Wood Road house; a Feb. 3 Ring camera clip of one passing through the backyard of a home near Moon Lane; and Feb. 5 Ring footage of a puma in the yard of a Buena Vista Drive home.

In his capacity as the Santa Cruz Puma Project’s principal investigator, Chris Wilmers receives several mountain lion videos a week from California residents who’ve inadvertently documented the animals while on alert for unwanted human guests.

“If you live in the Santa Cruz Mountains and you’re adjacent to natural vegetation, it’s totally normal, nothing unusual. It happens all the time,” said Wilmers, a professor with the UC Santa Cruz Environmental Studies Department. “The main thing that’s changed is that 10 years ago, we didn’t have Nextdoor and we didn’t have Ring cameras on people’s houses, and now we do. And so (where) we used to not know anything about what was going on outside at night, now we have a lot more information.”

While the videos might suggest nothing new in terms of mountain lion behavior, they should serve as a reminder of the animals’ often-silent presence within semi-rural areas; Wilmers estimates there are 50-70 adult pumas living in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Males maintain a home range of approximately 100-150 kilometers, with three or four females and their kittens residing within each territory.

One of those resident pumas is suspected of killing four of Summit Wood Road resident Edison Lin’s six chickens Feb. 1. That’s the same night his Nest cameras recorded a mountain lion emerging from behind his parked SUV, tiptoeing around a coop and, chillingly, creeping close enough to his house to ring the doorbell (see video below).

“When we saw (the footage) we were shocked – that he came that close to the house,” Lin said. “It looked like he was checking to see what was going on inside.”

Lin found a pile of black and white feathers in his yard the next morning. The assumption is the lion opened the coop by head-butting the roof panel.

Mountain lions tend to avoid residential areas, and when they do encounter them, they’re prone to sticking to areas that are difficult for humans to access – such as within vegetative cover or on steep slopes – Wilmers said. Deer are a major part of a puma’s natural diet, but it could also include opossums, racoons, chickens, domestic cats and goats – if the predators are presented with the opportunity. They will attack dogs, but it’s rare, and in the dozen or so years Wilmers has investigated lion kills, he has yet to encounter one involving a canine. A likely reason is dogs gravitate toward people and are often brought inside at night.

“The most important thing is to keep goats locked up at night in a fully enclosed structure that has a roof,” Wilmers said. “Ninety-five percent of the conflict with mountain lions is over goats.”

Lin’s remaining chickens remain unconvinced; he said they’ve taken to roosting in trees rather than return to their enclosure.

“They refuse to go back into the chicken coop after what happened,” he said.

For more information on the Santa Cruz Puma Project, visit santacruzpumas.org.

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