Recent reports of mountain lion sightings in Stanislaus and Merced counties have not been verified, authorities said.
That doesn’t mean that all of them are untrue, state Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Kyle Orr said.
“Roughly 80 percent of reports of mountain lion sightings are unverified,” Orr said. “But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lion there.”
Many sightings, however, do turn out to be something else – a dog, generally.
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In the last several weeks, a number of reports have surfaced. These include sightings along the Tuolumne River in Modesto, near the Merced River in Hilmar and in the east Turlock area, where two years ago a mountain lion was found in a tree outside the front door of a home.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife does not respond to individual reports of sightings – that would be impossible because reports come in every day, Orr said. Also, he pointed out, even if a mountain lion is spotted in an area, there is no guarantee it will be there a few hours later.
The territory of an adult male mountain lion can range up to 200 miles, Orr said.
“Mountain lions will use creekbeds as what’s often called a wildlife corridor,” he said. “So sightings along creekbeds are commonplace and logical.”
The animals are hard to track because of their very nature.
“They’re elusive and solitary,” Orr said. That’s why officials offer only a broad guess at how many inhabit the state – between 4,000 and 6,000.
The best indicator of mountain lion activity is a deer population. Deer are their primary prey, so mountain lions tend to live where there are a lot of deer.
Orr stressed that mountain lion attacks on people are exceedingly rare. Only 14 have been recorded since 1986. Of those, three were fatal.
The most recent involved a boy near Cupertino. He suffered injuries but was expected to recover, and the mountain lion that attacked him was found and killed.
Orr said it’s not unusual for reports of mountain lion sightings to increase after an incident like the one near Cupertino is publicized.
But just because someone sees a mountain lion doesn’t necessarily mean the person is in imminent danger.
“Mountain lions just want to avoid people,” Orr said. “It’s in their nature.”
Though rare, attacks do happen, Orr said, urging anyone who sees a mountain lion acting aggressively to call 911.
“Mountain lions are a top-of-the-line predator,” he said. “They do have the potential to be dangerous.”