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Saturday, June 3, 2023

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Arts + CultureCultureYear of the cats: What to do if you...

Year of the cats: What to do if you spot the wild felines prowling around lately

A brief survey of the fine mega-kitties who've been dropping by the Bay Area—just don't try to pet them

Last month, a two-year-old mountain lion nicknamed Mr. Handsome made it all the way to the sexy pages of People Magazine after he was captured in Bernal Heights and brought to the Oakland Zoo. I’ve spent many nights since wondering how Mr. Handsome managed to travel the 70-mile distance from the Santa Cruz Mountains (where he had been chipped and tracked by UCSC) to San Francisco. Did he hitchhike from Highway 17 or just leap 45 feet at a time up the Pacific Coast until he arrived in the 415?

However he made it here, Mr. Handsome seems like he’d be fun at a party, so I don’t totally worry that he was released in Santa Clara rather than Santa Cruz County, even though he may miss the Boardwalk. He probably already has a ton of new friends-paramours and has killed a few deer. Coyotes shouldn’t have all the fun.

Mr. Handsome’s Big Adventure reminded me of the rumor last May that tigers had escaped from the grounds during a protest in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. Even the Alameda County Sheriff tweeted that the cats were on the loose, and it’s surprising that it hasn’t been deleted to this day! If the tigers had actually escaped that night, I’d like to think that they would have joined the march around Lake Merritt and done everything they could to help the protestors in their calls for justice and accountability.

He’s clearly a species influencer, that Handsome devil. Within days of his jaunt, a different mountain lion broke into a home in San Bruno to possibly party with some taxidermy on the wall, and others were spotted roaming in residential areas of Daly City and the Oakland Hills. (One was just captured on camera yesterday, exploring a cute little yard in Petaluma.) All of these incidents could have been inspired by the free mountain lion who killed some poor marsupials at the San Francisco Zoo last summer, or at least the one who appeared to watch children at play in Pacifica back in September.

It’s fun to wonder whether there was some super secret signal among local mountain lions that certain areas were quiet enough to explore during the pandemic. Also, if sightings will become less frequent as more humans come outside and more cars hit the roads.

If you see a mountain lion, the National Park Service in Point Reyes, which has published extensive advice, says to stay calm and do not approach—even if he’s really attractive.

“Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation,” the NPS states. “Give them a way to escape.”

If you’re standing normally, you won’t look like some pussy prey. But if you bend over or crouch at all, you may start to resemble a vulnerable four-legged animal with a particularly juicy neck, so please don’t do that! 

Mountain lions are “generally calm, quiet, and elusive,” according to the NPS, which reckons you’re way more likely to die by your car hitting a deer than by being mauled to death by a mountain lion. Note: if you encounter one who screams loudly, it’s going to be a female, because the males apparently don’t make as much noise. (That’s what National Geographic tells children, at least.)

You may be tempted to give the mountain lion you see a name. I might suggest maintaining the Mr. and Ms. nomenclature; that went well last month.

Be warned: the unofficial Mountain Lion Society of Northern California may still be scouting out both sides of the Bay for a good spot to throw a family reunion rager, and they might decide to do it inside your house! Are you ready for all that? After this article, you have no excuse.

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