Several mountain lion sightings in the rural residential area of Lomita Avenue, just outside Sonoma city limits, has residents on edge, cats staying close to home and even foxes nesting under porches rather than brave the dangerous wild open.
“I saw the mountain lion last Tuesday morning, at around 5:15 in the morning,” said resident and cheesemaker Sheana Davis-Sessions. “I was going to work over in Yountville. I drove out Donald Street and looked up and down the street, and up Lomita about three houses was a very large mountain lion.”
Davis-Sessions, who says she has seen mountain lions twice before, alerted officials at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who told her that, unless the cat “causes havoc,” there wasn’t anything they could do. “My concern is just making sure that our neighborhood is aware,” Davis said.
That led Letta Hlavachek to create and distribute a flier in a four-block radius on June 6 that listed three occasions where the “small mountain lion has been seen” in the area – including a 12:30 a.m. sighting in a front yard about a month earlier, and another from a man who said he heard a mountain lion. Another area resident then posted the news on a Facebook group page.
The publicity prompted Quinton Martins, a big cat researcher now with the Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Bouverie Preserve, to pay a visit to the neighborhood earlier this week where, with a small posse of neighbors, including Davis' husband Ben Sessions, he walked the quiet neighborhood as morning birds sang.
Even as they strolled down the street toward the vineyards at road’s end, other neighbors popped up from their yards and offered their own tales, first-hand (or second), of mountain lions chasing house cats, lounging beneath an olive tree in the early morning hours, or repeatedly prowling their backyards.
Martins admitted that his curiosity was piqued by the multiple sightings. “It is interesting that it is said to be small,” he mused. “Generally speaking, a lion would not hang around a very small area for longer than a week unless it is a female with kittens under 2 months; or a sick animal; or possibly a young cat that has lost its mum.”
The wildlife biologist began his studies in his native South Africa and was for a time associated with Sonoma’s Snow Leopard Conservancy. He launched his feline studies with the Cape Leopard Trust, and adopted the mountain lions for study when he moved to Sonoma Valley. Now, he’s awaiting final approval on a tag-and-track study of the range, habitat and habits of the cougars of the Valley.
Martins sketched out a series of interlocking circles in his notebook. “The males’ range is up to 200 square miles, which is 10 wide by 20 long,” he said – about the size of the Sonoma Valley to Oakmont. “But a female’s range is about half that, so a male seeks to hold a territory that holds at least two, sometimes three mates.”
A recently retired career counselor for college students, Hlavachek distributed the news door-to-door, and another neighbor posted it hyper-local network Nextdoor.com. She said that at least seven people in the area reported seeing a mountain lion since last October, although there’s no way of knowing if it’s the same animal.
But the Lomita Avenue neighbors are not too concerned about their personal safety: mountain lions rarely attack people, though they may feign a charge to establish territory. At greater risk are small animals that might prove tempting for a hungry predator.
MOUNTAIN LION SAFETY
When living in or visiting mountain lion habitats:
• Don’t attract mountain lions to your home by feeding deer.
• Don’t leave small children or pets outside unattended.
• Install motion-sensitive lighting around your house.
• Don’t hike, bike or jog alone, and avoid doing these activities at dusk, dawn or night.
• If you encounter a mountain lion, don’t run. Face the animal, make noise, wave your arms, and throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children. If attacked, fight back.
Source: The California Department of Fish and Wildlife