A 100-pound mountain lion captured in Whiting Ranch Regional Park early Tuesday morning will not be killed, authorities said.
The 2-year-old animal will be relocated to some kind of "facility," though the exact location was not immediately known, said Andrew Hughan, spokesman for the Department of Fish and Game.
The puma was sedated at about midnight and taken to in Lake Forest for examination, said Orange County Parks spokeswoman Marisa O’Neil. Hughan said it will be undergoing some minor surgery at the hospital.
Rangers closed the Orange County wilderness park Monday to trap what they suspected was a lactating mountain lion seen several times over the past week so she can be relocated. However, they captured instead a 2-year-old male puma, which will be very difficult to relocate because male mountain lions are so territorial, Hughan said. Authorities believe they caught the animal that has been spotted repeatedly in the area.
“They were lucky to capture it. This is very rare because they are incredibly difficult to catch,” said Hughan. “They used a Have-A-Heart trap baited with beef. The lion smelled the beef and walked right into the trap. Right now the lion is safe and secure. Everybody is taking a deep breath before they make a decision.”
It was necessary to catch the lion because it has been spotted in such a populated area, he added. It is near the spot where a biker was killed and a woman was attacked in January 2004, said Hughan.
Officials spent Tuesday morning considering the fate of the animal.
“Relocating lions doesn’t work because they are so territorial,” said Hughan. “If you drop a mountain lion into another mountain lion’s territory, one of them is going to die because they are going to kill each other over territory.”
Though protected from hunting, mountain lions are not endangered. There are roughly 4,000 to 6,000 statewide, added Hughan.
On July 8, a . Subsequent sightings prompted rangers to temporarily close the path. , but rangers after additional sightings.
A was posted online over the weekend prompted state Department of Fish and Game officials to search for the big cat, which did not leave the area even after it was fired upon with beanbag-type rounds in an attempt to scare it off, O'Neil told the Orange County Register.
"During the investigation, they spotted the mountain lion very close to the trail and unwilling to move," said O'Neil. "Park rangers closed the park as a precaution while DFG officers continued the investigation."
The park was reopened to the public today, but the Serrano Cow Trail is likely to remained closed for the next couple days as a precaution.
The fish and game department is warning residents to stay calm if they encounter a mountain lion in the wild.
“The lions are more afraid of you than you are of them,” said Hughan. “If you see one, look large, wave your hands above your head, pick up your kids and dogs, and (the lion) will run away.”