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Cougars and Coyotes

What is man without the beasts?  If all the beasts were gone man would die of a great loneliness of the spirit.  For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man.  Chief Seattle 1854

Several years ago I was walking in the arroyo behind my house near Murrieta Hot Springs when my five dogs ran into the creek-side bushes at full force.  Ten seconds later they were running back out, tails between their legs and heading for home, with the exception of Peanut, who held his ground and remained with me.  I was curious but not too concerned.  As I made it the rest of the way home, I noticed a large tan animal quietly walking stealthily along the creek, head down, looking like he wanted nothing to do with me.  I thought it was a coyote, until I saw that it was a cat.  I thought it was a bobcat or a lynx, but noticed its long tail.  If I got any verbal message from its demeanor, it was “leave me alone.”

That was my first and only mountain lion encounter, although old timers near Murrieta Hot Springs tell me they had often seen, several years before, a mama mountain lion and baby lounging on the picnic tables.

I felt honored by that brief meeting.

Around the same time a pack of coyotes ran in the same arroyo and one who was separated from the others, perhaps even part domestic dog, moved into our backyard.  We fed “Scruffy” and my dogs played and rested peacefully with him (as well as with the pack at large.)  My cats kept a wary, but not particularly fearful eye on this very small, thin coyote.

I know, there have been tragic encounters with mountain lions, especially with runners or mountain bikers alone in wilderness areas, and I know all too many cats and small dogs, and even on occasion small children, have been carried off by a roaming coyote.

The coyotes I have seen are painfully thin and hungry, a result of housing tracts and malls encroaching on their homes, cutting back on their natural habitat and food sources.  It is understandable that they hunt and eat anything they can.  Respect them, give them space, and take precautions to avoid their visits. 

Do not leave food outside that will attract their prey.  In a previous home I made the mistake of leaving food for possums, raccoons and skunks and lost a very dear cat friend.  Keep your cats indoors as much as possible.  If you start them indoors as a kitten, they don’t have to suffer from confinement frustration, and they are safe from communicable diseases, unwanted pregnancies, cars, other animals, and even, sadly, poison from neighbors who are not cat friendly.

When aware of a mountain lion, give the animal a way to retreat, which is what they usually want to do.  If face to face, the wildlife experts say to stand tall to appear large, never bend or crouch even when picking up a small child or pet, make yourself larger by putting arms up and opening your jacket, and speak loudly and firmly to appear as the predator.  Never run away as the cougar may see you as prey.  In the rare instance of an actual attack, you can fight back with pepper spray, rocks, sticks, jackets, even bare hands.

Rob Hicks, Park Interpreter at the Santa Rosa Plateau for Riverside County Parks says to always hike with a least one other person.  He says no one who has been hiking in close proximity to another person has ever been attacked by a cougar.  He also notes that there have been less than twenty attacks in California the last one hundred and sixty years.

Keep children and pets in before dusk and until after dawn.  Never leave children or small animals unattended unless your yard is totally cougar or coyote proof.  Install outdoor lighting and remove dense or low-lying vegetation so that you can see the area around your house.

Make sure that outside animals are securely fenced in.  Or, according to The Mountain Lion Foundation, some people with livestock are having success combining larger livestock such as cattle with more vulnerable such as sheep.  When the animals sense the mountain lion, the cows make a ring around the sheep.  Other people are finding that reviving the ancient art of sheepherding by humans, or in some cases with guard dogs such as the Akbash, Great Pyrenees or Komondor                has radically decreased death from predators.

I believe that animals can pick up our thoughts and intentions and by holding thoughts such as, You don’t have to be afraid and I don’t have to be afraid, or, I respect your strength and beauty and your need for privacy.  Perhaps by acknowledging that cougar and coyote ancestors have been here as long as or longer than ours, we can co-exist.

For more information you can contact Rob Hicks or other staff at the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Center at 951-677-6951.  Or call the Mountain Lion Foundation in Sacramento at 916-442-2666 or go to www.mountainlion.org.