Caught on Camera: Two Big Cats Take a Leisurely Stroll in Westlake Village

A security camera captured two mountain lions taking an evening stroll through the backyard of a Westlake Village home.

The young big cats can be seen walking across a patio and along the perimeter of the yard before disappearing into the night.

"They looked very relaxed," said resident Jeffrey Crisp.

The community is just north of the Santa Monica Mountains, a vast range that stretches across Los Angeles and into Ventura County. It's home to several mountain lions that are tracked an studied by National Parks Service biologists.

Close Encounters of the Big Cat Kind in Southern California

Last month, researchers announced that potent chemicals used to poison rodents were found in the systems of two dead mountain lions found in the Santa Monica Mountains in the Malibu area. Since 2002, when a study began to examine how the animals survive in an urban area, NPS researchers have found the poison's compounds in 23 out of 24 SoCal mountain lions tested.

As for the mountain lions caught on camera in Westlake Village, they appeared healthy.

"What we're thinking is these are young mountain lions," said said Ana Beatriz, of the National Parks Service. "They could be siblings. They could have dispersed from their mom. Or, they could actually still be with mom, but they're just doing their own thing and going to meet up later on."

The mountain lion population is high in California, relative to other parts of the United States. Density estimates vary, but the figure might be as high as 10 lions per 100 square miles. By that estimate, the population is somewhere between 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions statewide.

But it's difficult to say whether that population is increasing or decreasing without an ongoing statewide study.

One thing is certain -- mountain lions go where they can find food, primarily deer. That sometimes brings them into urban areas, but it should be noted that a person is 1,000 times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. There have been only 16 verified mountain lion attacks in California since 1890, six of which were fatal, according to the agency.

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"They are wild animals, of course, but they're pretty elusive," Beatriz said.

The department receives hundreds of reports each year about mountain lions killing pets and livestock.

Mountain lions are a specially protected species in California under the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990, approved as Prop 117 by California voters. The classification has nothing to do with mountain lion numbers in California, but its passage made it illegal to hunt the big cats.