A mountain lion paw print was seen in the Sweet Spring Nature Preserve on Jan. 7. The shoe size, for comparison, is a women’s 8-wide. Photo by Alison Dimond.
Mountain lion sightings in neighborhoods in Los Osos have people buzzing. What many thought was one big cat roaming through the area is likely more.
A mountain lion believed to have made El Morro Elfin Forrest part of its territory is dead. Since then, glimpses of pumas and tracks left behind indicate more of the majestic big cats are passing back and forth— authorities say it’s normal.
“People are sometimes surprised to hear that half of California is considered mountain lion habitat,” Tim Daly, information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told Estero Bay News.
On Jan. 7 Alison Dimond, who lives across the street from Sweet Springs Nature Preserve, was out for a morning walk and discovered a mountain lion paw print around 7 a.m. (see photo).
“We mountain bike at Montano de Oro and are aware of snakes, coyotes, mountain lions and bears,” Dimond said. “I am alarmed but know wild animals live in the parks and normally do not harm humans. I hope the animal can stay safe.”
Sweet Springs, located off Ramona Avenue in Los Osos, is owned and managed by Morro Coast Audubon Society (MCAS).
“The latest sighting at Sweet Springs was in the morning of January 8th, based on a sighting of the animal and tracks found later,” said Dr. Marie Goeritz, land chair for MCAS as well as a zoologist and biology instructor at Cuesta College. “The first Sweet Springs report of a mountain lion came in early September, when a passerby mentioned to one of our ambassadors that he had just witnessed a mountain lion taking down a deer in West Sweet Springs. We weren’t quite sure what to make of this report because it was in the middle of the afternoon, we couldn’t track down the person who saw it, and we couldn’t find any signs of a kill. But in the next few days and weeks, reports of mountain lion sightings in Baywood started popping up, so we decided to put up warning signs at Sweet Springs.”
Although alarming, there are likely more lions in the area than people think, but the number is difficult to determine.
“We don’t have an estimated population for that area,” Daly said. “With these animals being so mobile, county by county numbers aren’t possible. Talking with the local biologist in that area, mountain lion activity is not considered unusual.”
In March of 2023, Estero Bay News reported that an adult mountain lion was captured on a trail camera in the front yard of a home on the 1100 block of 8th St., about a block from the El Moro Elfin Forest Nature Preserve.
Gene “Skip” Rotstein, a retired high school biology teacher and board member of the Friends of El Moro Elfin Forest, told us his camera caught another lion on Jan. 5 of this year. The first lion is the one believed to been hit and killed by a vehicle on Dec. 26.
“I reviewed my mountain lion videos from Nov 22 through January 5 and realized we have two mountain lions,” Rotstein said. “They have been appearing on almost alternate days. I summarized the information in the ‘Dead Mountain Lion Mystery’ [on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Msi-zspeyAI]. A previous witness told me the dead lion appeared to be a young male, but no picture was supplied. My cameras have only recorded one lion (January 5) since December 26.”
Information about the deceased lion could take a while. “A necropsy has not yet been done to help us learn age, sex, etc.,” Daly said.
This reporter talked to people at both the Elfin Forrest and Sweet Springs Nature Preserve. They were aware of cougar activity but were not overly phased by it.
Husband and wife Pat and Theresa Perry, whose home abuts the Elfin Forrest where they take walks nearly every day, say they are not really concerned for their safety.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Pat said. “We see deer and cayotes all the time. Where there are deer there are going to me mountain lions; that’s just the way it is. I am concerned about little kids.”
The couple say they know what to do in case they run into a lion during their walks. Experts say to stay calm, don’t run, do not crouch, or bend over. If the lion moves in your direction try to appear larger by raising your arms and speaking firmly in a loud voice. If the lion continues toward you, the National Park Service recommends on their website to throw things at it. “Aim for its body as accurately as you can but avoid aiming at its head. Aiming at its head could result in the cat being blinded in one eye, which could make it more dangerous to other hikers who later visit the park. Mountain lions are very dependent upon their sight—particularly depth perception—in order to successfully hunt their natural prey.”
It might seem relaxing to put on your earbuds while out for a walk in nature, but it is not wise. Be aware of the sights and sounds around you. Finally, should a lion attack, fight back with all you got.
“Humans usually don’t trigger mountain lion attacks because we look and move very differently from their typical prey,” said Goeritz. “As long as the mountain lion shows normal behavior and is afraid of humans, I’m not too worried, especially at Sweet Springs where there’s almost always other people during daylight hours.
“It might help to know that mountain lion attacks on groups of people are almost completely unheard of. Having said that, I would probably be at least mindful when walking a dog alone in Baywood, at the moment. It’s also a good idea to keep little kids close when hiking in mountain lion territory.”
The mention of Baywood specifically is based on anecdotal reports of lion sightings (see map) in the area increasing.
“I’m curious about the idea that there was/is a female in the Elfin Forest area that had cubs, and we’re now seeing a lot of the more unexperienced young ones as they are starting to disperse,” Goeritz said. “The one that was hit on South Bay Blvd in December was a young male, and many of the recent sightings also sound like it’s a juvenile mountain lion. On the other hand, some of the Elfin Forest videos suggest the presence of a large female. But this is all speculation on my part.”
Goeritz, said that the number of people visiting Sweet Springs has not declined since signs warning signs went up.
Although the risk of being attacked by a mountain lion is very rare, caution is a part of that.
“As always we ask people to be careful at night and early mornings — to act big and noisy if they see a mountain lion,” Daly said.
Even though a lion was captured in the Perfumo Canyon area in San Luis Obispo last March and was relocated after a dog was killed while out for walk with its owner, the CDFW does not typically relocate cougars.
“There are times when a mountain lion (or bear) is so deep within a community and can’t get out, or doesn’t seem to be trying, or has been drugged and needs to be removed, that we might take it back to what’s called ‘nearest suitable habitat,’” Daly said. “But, in general, we don’t trap and relocate when a mountain lion is in or near a community, acting as a mountain lion. They cover so much territory [average 100 square miles] this is simply moving the problem from one community to another. And it’s also possible for the mountain lion to return to the same area after being moved.”
California Department of Fish and Wildlife defines a mountain lion attack as an incident resulting in direct physical contact between a human and a mountain lion resulting in physical injury or death to the person. An attack is verified only when a physician, law enforcement officer or CDFW personnel determine the injuries were caused by a mountain lion. The list of attacks, located at wildlife.ca.gov/Conservation/Mammals/Mountain-Lion/Attacks, show people from 5 to 70 years old. Since 1986, there have been 21 verified attacks in CA — four were fatal.
To report mountain lion activity, the CDFW ask folks to use their Wildlife Incident Reporting system at wildlife.ca.gov/wir to notify them.
“When there’s a threat to public safety, we work with the public to educate on staying safe and reducing encounters,” Daly said. “When there’s actual contact with livestock, we try and visit the site and assist the homeowner with steps to prevent further contact. On the rare occasion contact happens with a person, our law enforcement staff get involved in trying to locate the animal. When there’s an actual threat to public safety, we hope residents are contacting their local law enforcement. That’s how we often learn of wildlife issues in various communities.”
Mountain lions are classified as a ‘specially protected’ species in California following the passage of the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990.