San Francisco, CA

Mountain lion wandered in San Francisco neighborhood for two days

Josue Torres
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The 2-year-old lion.Courtesy of Oakland Zoo

A 2-year-old, 100-pound male mountain lion was lurking in a San Francisco neighborhood for two days, scaring residents and bystanders.

The lion was captured Wednesday night after retreating up a tree in Bernal Heights.

The cougar was darted by authorities from California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife after he was unable to make a discrete getaway since he was in the center of the city, surrounded by inquisitive neighbors and gawkers. 

They took him to the Oakland Zoo, where he spent the night awaiting a complete health examination.

Officials from the zoo, the state, and the Bay Area Puma Project, a mountain lion study organization, intend to release the reportedly healthy and unharmed animal Thursday afternoon in Santa Clara County.

Bernal Heights, a suburban area south of San Francisco’s Mission District, is not the kind of semi-wild suburb where mountain lions are commonly observed in California. 

This one was initially observed in the area on Tuesday and had been sighted a few days before in Pacifica — it was migrating north down the peninsula.

It’s unknown how he got to Bernal Heights, which is far from any visible wildlife route. Mountain lions, according to Zara McDonald, director and biologist for the puma rescue organization, visit San Francisco and other metropolitan areas more often than many people believe.

Male mountain lions in the Bay Area often need 100 square miles of territory. As their native habitat is encroached upon by human development and further constrained by fires and drought, they may be able to move outside their usual range.

McDonald said that this cougar has visited the city at least once previously. He had already been caught by the Puma Project.

She claims that lions have excellent internal navigational compasses, but that once they get inside the city, things may become tricky.

She claims that living in such densely populated locations is difficult for them. 

In this instance, the lion had gotten so far into the city and was soon encircled by well-meaning and interested bystanders, that it became practically difficult for him to escape on his own.

After two days, it was evident that he required assistance.

That’s when the Department of Fish and Wildlife arrived, according to department spokesman Ken Paglia, who added that state agents had been waiting for a couple of days to assist San Francisco’s animal control, who were the first responders.

The state transported the lion to the Oakland Zoo early Thursday, where a team of veterinarians and technicians prepared themselves.

“We’re always on call, 24/7,” said Nik Dehejia, the zoo’s chief executive, referring to the zoo’s 17,000-square-foot animal hospital, which is ready to accept animals in emergency circumstances.

The zoo’s vice president of veterinary services, Dr. Alex Herman, described the mountain lion as “so handsome and so beautiful and so very healthy.”

She and her staff did a comprehensive checkup, inspecting his teeth, eyes, ear, tummy, heart, lungs, bladder, and testicles, and gave him immunizations for illnesses including feline leukemia and SIV, as well as flea and tick medications.

She explained that almost all wild animals have parasites, but since this lion had had a few stressful days, removing those freeloaders would help his transition back to the wild.

Three organizations — the Oakland Zoo, the state, local animal control, and the Puma Project — have banded together to assist wild animals to thrive, she said.

“They don’t need to be dispatched anymore,” she said. They may instead be moved and freed.

According to Erin Harrison, the zoo’s vice president of marketing, not all mountain lions transferred to the zoo are released back into the wild. 

Last summer, the crew received a small male cub from Redding, California, whose paws had been severely damaged in a fire. 

They operated on the young animal multiple times. He was sent to the Columbus Zoo, where he presently stays after he had recovered.

The fire team who rescued him dubbed him “Captain Cal,” and he was moved alongside two other orphan cubs that the zoo was caring for at the time.

Mountain lions and other wild animals suffer risks from toxic chemicals, including rodenticides, in addition to fires, human encroachment, and drought, according to McDonald.

She quoted a state study that showed a significant number of predators dying in California after eating rats that had consumed anticoagulant poisons.

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