On August 31st at about 2:15 am someone called the Berkeley Police to report that a mountain lion was wandering in a residential and commercial area It was first reported to be in the parking lot of an abandoned pharmacy. The animal then moved when police arrived, winding up in the back yard of someone’s home. Two shots were fired at the animal, but did not kill it. The mountain lion moved into a different yard, where it was shot and killed with a rifle.
An official statement from the Berkeley Police Department said,
“Despite the sensitive nature of this event, we feel confident about the actions taken by the BPD Officers considering the totality of the events, when considering the densely populated area in which the animal was in, the homeless that sleep in the area, the overnight employees who clean businesses and the like, the adjacent schools and the northern Shattuck corridor. BPD believed that this Mountain Lion posed a significant public safety threat. (Source: Berkeleyside.com)
The Berkeley Police statement is correct. It is a densely populated area, except the animal was first noticed at 2:15 am on a Tuesday in a vacant parking lot, next to an empty building. Neither the parking lot nor the building has been used by people for months. No children were in any schools at 2:15 am. Also there are no documented cases of a mountain lion ever attacking a homeless person in the area. Additionally, any early morning cleaning person would have been indoors, and all the shops in the area are too small to have early morning indoor cleaning staff. In other words, the vast majority of people who live in the area were indoors sleeping when the animal was spotted, and it wasn’t near anyone anyway.
The official statement relies on a questionable premise; that a very lost mountain lion was a mortal danger to the public, rather than considering that the wild animal was in danger of being killed by cars or the police. The same flawed notion was used by Oakland Police several months ago to shoot and kill a lost deer that was only about one year old. It was said to be a threat to public safety.
Another article about the mountain lion shooting stated that game wardens don’t carry tranquilizers and that they are said to be unreliable in emergency situations. However, a lost and confused mountain lion in a vacant lot in an area where there are no people on the streets because they are sleeping would actually be a good candidate for tranquilizer guns, if the police carried them (which they do not.) A rifle was used to kill the animal, and in those conditions it could have easily missed. Rifle bullets can travel very long distances, and a stray rifle bullet could harm or kill a human. Yet the police in this case say they were trying to protect the public.
It took three shots from conventional guns to kill the mountain lion, so why not try a tranquilizer shot or two, so there would be chance the animal could be relocated. The number of mountain lion attacks in California is very small, and they all occur when people are recreating in nature areas that are also mountain lion territory. In other words, mountain lions don’t venture into human dominated areas to hunt humans.
According to Tom Chester’s website, there were no deaths from mountain lion attacks in California from 1910 to 1993. The ones that did occur after that took place in mountain lion territory, usually involving solo hikers or bike riders. One that was reported as an attack actually has been possibly overturned and could have been a heart attack, followed by a mountain lion eating the corpse. “The speculation that fits the facts best is that Mark had a heart attack while riding his bike, fell off his bike, causing the chain to fall off the sprockets. The cougar then simply scavenged him while he was dead on the ground.” (Source: tchester.org, Year 2004)
It appears what is happening in these situations when wild animals are killed as an automatic procedure is that the first responders are the police, now always equipped with tranquilizer guns and without knowledge of animal behavior or conservation. The Wildlife and Game people should be first on the scene to assess each wild animal situation to give the animals a chance at surviving their encounters with urban settings.