John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
“I think there’s a cougar in my backyard, and not the type that drinks Chardonnay.”
If you see what appears to be a long-tailed kitty on steroids slinking around San Francisco, do not approach it with treats. It might be a mountain lion paying a rare visit to the city, as people have reported seeing such an animal several times in recent days.
Two sightings occurred on June 30 in the western Presidio and the tony neighborhood of Sea Cliff, where a security camera captured the apex predator politely using the sidewalk. Then there was a spotting on July 1 on the 1000 block of Gough Street—which is insane, as that’s smack-dab in downtown—and another on July 3 near Lake Merced.
The Presidio Trust says it’s likely all the reports are for the same creature. “The animal appears to be moving south and has not been seen since July 3,” it writes. “While there have been no Mountain Lion sightings in San Francisco in many years, and none this far north, sightings regularly occur throughout undeveloped areas of Marin and San Mateo.” (It’s common on regional hiking trails to encounter signs saying keep your children close.)
Regarding the downtown report, Deb Campbell at the city’s Animal Care & Control says a resident called in a possible mountain lion behind her home. “The woman said, ‘I think there’s a cougar in my backyard, and not the type that drinks Chardonnay.’ We’ve all had a good chuckle with that.”
Mountain lions try to avoid people, but just in case the trust is warning folks to keep pets leashed and be “especially mindful between dusk and dawn.” If you bump into it, the trust advises keeping eye contact, making noise, trying to appear big, and if attacked to always fight back (perhaps with rocks or your bag).
It’s thought that a full half of California is lion territory. Though it’s rare for one of them to maul a human in the Bay Area, it has happened. Last September, a big cat stalked and attacked a boy hiking near Cupertino. He recovered, and the lion was found and killed. The last attack before that was in 1909, according to Zara McDonald at the Bay Area Puma Project, when a lion attacked a mother and daughter, who contracted and died of rabies.
If any locals want to report a lion, the how-to instructions are here.