Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion Found in Irvine Office Released Back to Wild

"That animal was terrified and they don’t have anything in their mind other than getting away from people," Vickers said.

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Back in the wild!

A mountain lion that led Irvine police on a wild chase Tuesday has been returned to the Santa Ana Mountains, its natural habitat, unlike the area where it was found running through the streets of the city.

From here on out the mountain lion will be known as M317, and every move he makes will be tracked by the GPS collar he now wears.

A 2-year-old mountain lion ran through an office in Irvine and was subdued by animal control officers. Vikki Vargas reports for the NBC4 News on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

The 113-pound mountain lion became a cause célèbre as he dashed through the Sand Canyon Plaza just after noon Tuesday.

Veterinarian Scott Weldy knew the big cat could be caught if it could just be corralled.

So he loaded up his dart gun and got ready.

"It was trying to go in windows. The only open door was where the AC was broken, and the cat went whoosh -- right inside. It was great for us because we could shut the door," Weldy said.

Photos were taken inside the Irvine office building where Weldy says he played a measured game of hide-and-seek with the puma.

"My dart hit it in the shoulder and stuck, then we supplemented him with extra because he wasn’t down enough for us to be moving him out," Weldy said.

Experts say the male cougar was likely dispersing, meaning he was trying to establish his own territory away from his family. But he ended up with a geographical hangover.

"I suspect he moved down a drainage channel at night then when the sun came up, he found himself in this urban environment," said Winston Vickers of the California Mountain Lion Project.

Vickers, who studies mountain lions, says it’s not in the cat’s nature to attack unless provoked.

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"That animal was terrified and they don’t have anything in their mind other than getting away from people," Vickers said.

M317 was released back into the Santa Ana Mountains after he was checked for fleas and ticks, and vaccinated.

Initially state officials thought it would be best to release the cat near where it was found but given the development around the area, the decision was made to send it back to where it came from to start over.

There are about 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions in California, but wildlife officials call that a crude estimate without an ongoing statewide study. More than half of the state is considered prime habitat for the big cats, which can be found wherever deer are present.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife receives hundreds of mountain lion sighting reports each year. Few result in mountain lions being identified as posing an imminent threat to public safety, the department said. Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare and their nature is to avoid humans.

Here's a full list of recommendations from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife of what to do during a mountain lion encounter:

  • Do not hike, bike, or jog alone. Stay alert on trails.
  • Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active – dawn, dusk, and at night.
  • Keep a close watch on small children.
  • Off leash dogs on trails are at increased risk of becoming prey for a mountain lion.
  • Never approach a mountain lion. Give them an escape route.
  • DO NOT RUN. Stay calm. Running may trigger chase, catch and kill response. Do not turn your back. Face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms, or opening your jacket if wearing one; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.
  • Do not crouch down or bend over. Squatting puts you in a vulnerable position of appearing much like a 4-legged prey animal.
  • Be vocal; however, speak calmly and do not use high pitched tones or high pitch screams.
  • Teach others how to behave during an encounter. Anyone who runs may initiate an attack.
  • If a lion attacks, fight back. Research on mountain lion attacks suggests that many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, garden tools, even an ink pen or bare hands. Try to stay on your feet. If knocked down, try to protect head and neck.
  • If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.
  • Report unusual mountain lion behavior to your local CDFW regional office.
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