Live in the Bay Area long enough, and you’ll likely cross paths with a large, tan-colored cat. That’s a mountain lion, and over the past few years, they’ve made themselves more public.
People have spotted mountain lions in Bay Area parks, in neighborhoods and even in back yards. This week, Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District officials closed several trails due to the spotting of a mountain lion family in Rancho San Antonio, near Cupertino.
Why are we seeing more mountain lions?
Mountain lions instinctively hunt deer, not people. Generally, they would rather avoid us. However, as both human and mountain lion populations increase, we’re more likely to share the same space.
Mountain lions tend to gravitate to places where deer hang out–usually hillside areas with some open space. This is also where people like to build houses. So if you live in the East Bay Hills, you’re more likely to see a mountain lion than if you have a condo in downtown Oakland.
Are mountain lions dangerous?
Mountain lions typically want to avoid confrontation. But if they feel threatened, or if they feel they need to protect their young, they may attack.
Mountain lions are large, powerful creatures, able to leap 30 feet in a single bound and run up to 50 miles per hour. If you encounter a mountain lion, take precautions. Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space District offers this advice:
• Do Not Run!
• Keep children and pets close.
• Do not approach the lion.
• Do not turn your back on the lion.
• Do not crouch down or bend over.
• Instead, stand tall, face the animals, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms or throwing objects.
• Back away slowly. Watch how the mountain lion reacts. If you’re getting farther away from the lion and/or her young, the lion may walk away.
• Leave the area and warn others of the sighting.
• Fight back if attacked.
What are my legal rights if I’m attacked?
Government entities, such as state and federal parks, have governmental immunity from most types of lawsuits, including personal injury claims.
In Arroyo v. State of California, the family of nine-year-old Darron Arroyo sued the State after Darron was mauled by a mountain lion in a state park. They alleged not only that the State failed to adequately warn, but that a moratorium on killing mountain lions created an artificial condition that resulted in an “overabundance of mountain lions,” which is foreseeably dangerous.
The federal court agreed with the State, affirming, “Government Code section 831.2 protects public entities and employees from liability for injuries caused by natural conditions on unimproved public property. Here we hold that mountain lions are part of the natural condition of the land. The immunity provided by section 831.2 precludes prosecution of an action.”
That’s not to say the government will never be liable for injuries that take place on public trails. There are exceptions to immunity when the government knows there are dangerous animals in the area and fails to provide reasonable warning. Reasonable warning could mean signs or some type of brochure at park entrances.
Before your next hike, check the park’s website for any mountain lion or other wild animal sightings and instructions.