Mountain lion kills deer on Pepperdine campus

Mountain lions often hunt at night and in the early morning hours.

A portion of a park in Ventura was closed for a week after several mountain lion sightings.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

A mountain lion was spotted in the hills next to faculty condominiums on Pepperdine University campus last week, feasting on a freshly killed deer.

“A resident contacted us when he saw the mountain lion,” Monica Loeffler, spokeswoman for the property management office at Pepperdine, said. “It was right near the Drescher condos below Via de la Casa and above the play structure on Mariposa.”

The Pepperdine Public Safety office immediately contacted animal control authorities and the Sheriff’s Department to remove the remains of the killed deer and patrol the site.

This follows the closure of several trails in the northern end of Arroyo Verde Park in Ventura after three mountain lion sightings were reported June 8 through June 10. That portion of the park was reopened on Monday.

Seemingly too close for comfort, mountain lions present a rare threat to humans, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. “For the number of sightings of mountain lions in the state, there are few safety concerns,” department spokesman Harry Morse said. “Mountain lions are shy and nocturnal and they avoid people. But you can see them when they are hunting early in the morning or late at night.”

“If a mountain lion kills a deer near a campground or trailhead or some other place where people go, we recommend that they block off the area and remove the remains, since lions will return to finish off the meal,” Morse said. “They mark the area to keep other predators away, they might partially bury the kill and then they’ll come back later. If the carcass is removed, they usually just go hunt elsewhere.”

A mountain lion’s hunting area can cover up to 100 square miles.

But what if a mountain predator’s hunting area abuts human habitation?

“Mountain lions go where the deer are found,” Morse said. “If you have a pretty green lawn and garden with nice vegetables and fresh water available, you are going to attract deer. And that will attract mountain lions.”

In fact, a small family of deer is regularly seen grazing on the wide expanse of green lawn below Pepperdine at Pacific Coast Highway.

Morse continued, “If you live in the mountains and have a garden, we recommend putting up deer fencing and, with these near-drought conditions, don’t leave water standing outside.”

The Department of Fish and Game also recommends basic common-sense guidelines to living in mountain lion country, such as trimming bushes to reduce hiding places for the predators, installing motion sensitive lighting around the house and keeping small pets inside at night (see sidebar for other recommendations).

Whereas mountain lions rarely attack humans, there have been a couple of high-profile cases in California in recent years. A cyclist was killed by a mountain lion and partially buried in Orange County in 2004 and a woman was attacked nearby later the same day by the same animal. She survived the attack.

In January of this year, a mountain lion attacked a couple who were hiking north of Eureka, severely injuring the husband, and was finally driven away by his log-wielding wife.

But such attacks are statistically rare. Professor Lee Kats, associate provost of research and professor of biology at Pepperdine, said he has been on campus for about 15 years and deer-and, therefore, mountain lions-have always been a presence.

“Frankly, data shows that there is a much greater threat of driving on PCH than from mountain lions,” he said. “We might have an innate fear of predators, but fatalities from lion attacks are very low. I think one of the wonderful things about living here in the Santa Monica Mountains is the great biodiversity. Our community benefits from it.”

Like Morse, Kats recommends contacting park rangers, the Sheriff’s Department or the campus department of public safety if a mountain lion is spotted feeding on a kill, or if a kill is discovered while hiking. “Authorities will remove the carcass and the lion will go hunt somewhere else,” he said.

Morse said mountain lions are found all over California, particularly wherever deer are common. “Don’t go hiking alone,” Morse advised, “And if you come across a mountain lion, don’t run away or it will key his pursuit instincts. Just face him, make yourself as big as possible, yell, throw rocks and wave your arms.”

There have been instances of mountain lion sightings near state park campgrounds in Northern California, requiring portions of the camp areas to be closed for a while, but no wholesale park closures.

“Actually, one of the bigger problems has been reports of mountain lion sightings that turn out to be a simple bob cat, which weighs about 90 pounds less than a mountain lion,” Morse said. “One report of a sighting had news helicopters up in the air when we found that it was only a house cat.”

Mountain lion sightings can be reported to the Sheriff’s Department at: 818.878.1808 or, if on campus, to Pepperdine Public Safety offices at: 310.506.4441