Move over bears; lions also live at Tahoe
A dark, slinking shape in the night, a loud hiss and guttural growl: Those are the fleeting sights and sounds of mountain lions some Tahoma residents say they’ve experienced recently.
George Elwell returned home from dinner out at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday in late October, and heard something frightening when he and his wife stepped out of the car.
The Placer Street resident said he heard a low growl and took it as a warning to usher his wife and himself inside the house as quickly as possible. Elwell reports that his porch lights, armed with motion sensors, were tripped several times throughout the evening. When he got up at about 2 a.m. he saw the shadow of an animal he couldn’t recognize through his front window.
“I saw something moving out there,” said Elwell. “[It was not] as small as coyote and not as big as a bear.”
His neighbor Chris Hanna said his wife heard a loud hissing the same night.
Patience Lewis, a local Realtor and Tahoma resident, said her daughter saw a dark shape one night the same weekend. Lewis said she had been tipped by campers at Sugar Pine State Park that rangers had warned them about mountain lion sightings.
Doug Updike, a senior wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game, said he had not heard about the Tahoma reports, but said mountain lion sightings are common in California and occur throughout the year. Contrary to popular belief, Updike said there is no public safety concern.
Although mountain lion attacks are highly publicized, he emphasized they are extremely rare.
“[In California] there have been 16 attacks in the last 125 years,” Updike said. “Luckily, we [humans] are not on the menu ” if we were, there would be hundreds of victims daily.”
Updike said the large cats, also known as cougars or pumas, feed almost exclusively on deer, although they have been known to switch their preference.
Mountain lions are quiet and solitary and usually occupy a range of 100 to 300 square miles. He said the cats are constantly on the move and unless a female has kittens they don’t stop roaming their home range. He estimated there could be 10 lions living in and around the basin.
Updike said the native cats are a buff color and males can grow to 160 pounds while females can weigh as little as 70 pounds. He said once the deer move to lower elevations for the winter, the lions will move on as well.
“They typically move with the deer so soon when [the deer] leave the high country [and migrate] to the west slope; the lions go with them,” Updike said.
Elwell’s neighbor Chris Hanna thinks the Tahoma sightings are legitimate and the Placer Street lion is just waiting for the first snow before it takes off to warmer country. Hanna said until then he is keeping an eye out. He said he had second thoughts recently about barbecuing steaks at dusk.
And Elwell said he now avoids walking the dog at dawn or dusk.
Updike said for more information on mountain lions and other native wildlife, visit http://www.keepmewild.org. The site provide precautions and tips of what to do if confronted with a mountain lion.
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