Multiple Mountain Lion Sightings Put Pepperdine on Watch

Santa Monica Mountain Lions Feeding

Recent mountain lion sightings at Pepperdine University have prompted the school’s Public Safety Department to issue a warning asking people on the campus to not “hike or jog alone.” Even biking alone is being discouraged since what had been a rarity at the campus is now becoming much more frequent.

As recently as Feb. 1, there were two sightings (although reported by Pepperdine Emergency Information as unconfirmed) — one at 10:50 p.m. near the Student Health Center and another soon after at 11:25 p.m. on the hillside above Upper Dorm Road. However, since Dec. 18, there have been nine confirmed sightings of the big cats. All of the mountain lion sightings have been after dark. The wild animals are most active between dusk and dawn.

The National Park Service, which has had a busy year with mountain lion activity and big cat deaths in the Santa Monica Mountains, recently met with Pepperdine officials to investigate the matter in order to help keep students, faculty and visitors safe. An animal expert who has studied mountain lion activity in the area was able to tour the campus and sites where the big cat or cats have been spotted. The expert told Pepperdine safety officers this appears to be a healthy mountain lion moving within his territory and acting normally. 

Other sightings of the lions have occurred off campus recently. In December, Austin Trujillo was startled to find a full-grown puma in his Sea View Estates neighborhood up Las Flores Canyon. 

“We were driving up Monte Viento, I had my family in the car. It was dark and then all of a sudden we thought we saw a deer, but it wasn’t a deer. It was a mountain lion,” the father of two told The Malibu Times. “It crossed the street right in front of us to another street. Then it hopped a neighbor’s fence and ran into the canyon.” Trujillo went on to say that the animal appeared, “full size, healthy, the size of a deer.

“It was cool to see it running. You’re not used to seeing that motion of running … not in a zoo. It was enjoyable to watch. I called California Fish and Game to report it.” 

That was Trujillo’s second sighting of a big cat near Las Flores Canyon in 2016. He said earlier in the year he had a brief sighting of a big cat, but this time at the bottom of Las Flores Canyon — although the sighting was different because it occurred in midday. 

“It darted off in front of me right near the little school at the end of the parking lot,” Trujillo recalled. “It darted right into the ravine. It was quick. Something you don’t see every day though.”

Acting normally for a big cat, or puma as they are sometimes called, can mean a possible attack and Pepperdine issued this reminder if you encounter a mountain lion:

•Respect the animal.

•Maintain eye contact and move away slowly.

•Do NOT run. Running will trigger the mountain lion’s instinct to chase you.

•Appear as large, loud and powerful as possible.

•If there are small children or pets present, pick them up immediately — additionally do NOT leave them unattended outside.

•Do not approach the mountain lion. Leave space for the cat to escape.

•In the unlikely event of an attack, fight back. However, do not fall to the ground or roll into the fetal position.

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, mountain lion attacks on humans are very rare. The department stresses nonetheless that knowing how to respond is important.

Those on the Pepperdine campus can get security escorts by calling the school’s Public Safety Dispatch at 310.506.4442. The school is asking for all mountain lion sightings on campus or nearby to be reported to its Department of Public Safety at 310.506.4441. University leaders say they are in communication with biologists at the National Park Service who monitor mountain lion activity in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s this mountain range that Pepperdine falls into that provides a backdrop and habitat for both mountain lions and their prey.