A mountain lion that has been stalking livestock and domestic pets up in the Painted Cave community for the past year has grown bolder. It recently crashed through french doors into the home of longtime resident Ted Adams to grab a dog. His wife, Tracy Adams, had the presence of mind to use bear spray on the big cat to make it release the dog and leave the house. The dog was injured, but it survived.
A total of 10 house cats and five goats in Painted Cave, and a dog on nearby East Camino Cielo have been killed since the puma’s arrival, but mountain lions have candidate species protection under the California Endangered Species Act and cannot be relocated or killed in Central and Southern California. Painted Cave residents, who form a famously self-reliant community with a well-established communications system for fire and safety, have become concerned that the mountain lion — or lions; some say there are two — is getting too comfortable. Even the daily commute of cars and presence of people do not frighten the big cat.
“We know they live in the community and never have attacked a person before,” said resident Peter Hasler, “and we are reasonably careful to protect pets, but families with small children are particularly worried.” Author James Wapotich, who does not live in Painted Cave but is familiar with its trails, said he’d seen five mountain lions in his 40 years hiking the trails. They’re native to the region and have inhabited the Santa Ynez Mountains for decades, he said.
John Bair, the ranch manager at Laurel Springs Retreat on Painted Cave Road, experienced a run-in with the mountain lion when it jumped a six-foot fence and killed three goats. He increased the security of the enclosure, but two goats got out and fell prey to the “murderer” and its paws and teeth. “I say ‘murder’ because this mountain lion just killed them and didn’t eat even one,” Bair said.
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Resident Philip Seymour, a well-known environmental attorney in Santa Barbara, heard from a neighbor of a face-off with the cat in broad daylight near Knapp’s Castle. The puma “wanted her dog, but she managed to save him by picking the little guy up, making lots of noise, and throwing rocks until the mountain lion got bored — not afraid, mind you — and went away,” Seymour recounted. According to the National Park Service, if you encounter a mountain lion, it’s better to be intimidating, waving your arms and making noise, rather than appearing small and vulnerable.
Mountain lions have been classified “specially protected mammals” since the California Wildlife Protection Act passed in 1990, which made hunting them for sport illegal. The only exceptions are when an identified animal has killed livestock or pets, for public safety, or to protect bighorn sheep; any taking requires a depredation permit, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The penalties for violating the wildlife act are prison for up to a year or a fine up to $10,000.
Jenny VanSeters, who is among the leaders of the neighborhood’s Mountain Ember Team, said a Fish and Wildlife biologist, Rebecca Barboza, had told her last fall: “Many people ask about relocation, and unfortunately, relocation of mountain lions is not a feasible option. Animals that are displaced from their home range become disoriented and will not know where their food, water, shelter, or competitors are.” The relocated cat would inevitably be attacked and killed by a more dominant mountain lion, Barboza had said, or would die attempting to return to its original home range. For the moment, residents were just encouraged to report new incidents.
“We are a community of nature lovers and really don’t want to see harm brought to the lion, but this seems like highly unusual behavior, and it has a lot of people on edge,” said VanSeters.
Correction: The corrected version of this story updates information about the mountain lion and its protected status, facts about Painted Cave’s community, and the spelling of John Bair’s name.