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To Co-Exist With Lions
by Christina Duane

October 4 , 2003

Recent Mountain Lion encounters here in San Juan Creek have given me cause to reflect on the years of peaceful co-existance with them. I believe that these recent encounters could have presented us with an opportunity to adjust our own behavior in order to co-exist with these lions. It is not abnormal for Mountain lions to be found in a lush covered creek-bed full of wildlife, nor is it abnormal for them to consider small children as possible prey and yet we are hearing that this is abnormal and this is why they will be caught and killed. Although I believe the authorities are acting in what they believe is the publics best interest, I believe, that with public awareness and effort, there could be another solution that is a win-win for both man and beast.

Over 10 years ago while walking in Irvine Park, I had the privilege of encountering a California Mountain Lion. Thirty feet ahead of me, sprawling under a giant Sycamore, lay a young Mountain Lion. I knew I must not run and because it was smaller than a full-grown lion, I felt more compelled to walk toward it than retreat but I stood still. We stared at each other for what seemed like several minutes both of us stunned and mesmerized. Then he turned and leaped away with his long thick tail dismissing any thought that I had seen a giant bobcat.

I have hiked many miles for many years in Mountain Lion Country, from the Santa Ana Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, and San Jacinto, to The Sequoia Mountains, the Eastern Sierra Nevada, the Colorado Rockies and The Oregon Siquious. All the while, following strict precautionary measures such as keeping my children directly at my side no matter how much they wanted to run ahead or lag behind. I am convinced that we were watched curiously, maybe even considered as possible prey at some point but by following the precautions suggested for mountain lion encounters, we were not considered easy prey. We accepted the risk to enjoy the beauty of mountains just as we should be willing to accept the risks that come with living connected to a wilderness area.

I do not believe that these San Juan Creek Lions are any different than those further out in the wild. They can also become convinced we are not prey. What is different is how many people would have to except the ongoing possibility of encountering a lion, change their walking habits (not alone), and exercise extreme vigilance with their children and their pets, if the lions were to be left alone. It may also take confrontations, where the lions are scared off and get the message several times becoming convinced by our behavior that we are not prey. If some parents or pet owners didn't take the risk seriously, there could be serious consequence. We would need the signs as they have up in O'Neill and Irvine Parks where people live side by side with the lions.

There are steps that could be taken to make the area safer. Clearing some of the thick vegetation that provides cover for the lions around the equestrian center, and higher fences all the way around Ambuehl School to name a few.

Coexistence with these lions in San Juan Creek would require a change in our way of life. Once we could let children walk to the store alone, now because of human predators, we don't. Once we could fly without a second thought, and now we remember a world changed after September 11th. We are tired of being vigilant. We want our children to be able to walk to school, to run and play and be safe. Yet these lions are not human predators, nor terrorists but victims of our encroachment on their habitat. Shooting them is not a long-term solution but an easy way to regain our own peace and sanctity temporarily. The question is "How much inconvenience are we willing to endure for the Mountain Lion and are we just too battle weary anymore to make the effort?"

Copyright 2003 Christina Duane. No unauthorized duplication without written consent.

Learn more about Mountain Lions and our other local wildlife at the
Donna O'Neill Land Conservancy






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