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MOUNTAIN LION SIGHTED IN SECTIONS OF VALENCIA.

Byline: Mary Schubert Daily News Staff Writer

A mountain lion roamed through a condominium complex behind City Hall and residential neighborhoods next to paseos and the south fork of the Santa Clara River but eluded capture, authorities said Monday.

The big cat was carrying a small animal in its mouth when a sheriff's deputy spotted it scampering along one of the pedestrian paseos that wind through Valencia tracts. Residents called the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department about 9:30 p.m. Sunday to report the predator.

The animal was first spotted in the Santa Fe condominiums, a complex of about 300 units in the 23800 block of Del Monte Drive, east of McBean Parkway near Santa Clarita City Hall.

Deputy Brian Goodwin of the sheriff's Santa Clarita Valley station was sent to Montolla Lane, a cul-de-sac where residents said the mountain lion was in somebody's front yard, near a 4-foot-high block wall.

``I got to the end of Montolla, and I saw this mountain lion leap over the wall onto the paseo. I couldn't quite believe what I saw,'' Goodwin said. ``This was right in the middle of town in Valencia.''

He left his squad car behind and followed the animal onto the paseo, in an effort to keep track of its whereabouts. ``It stopped, turned around, looked at me and took off running,'' Goodwin said.

``I lost sight of it at El Paseo (Drive) and Alberto (Court). It was a little faster than I was,'' Goodwin said. ``He just kind of disappeared into the night.''

Goodwin said he didn't have his gun drawn as he followed the lion because firing a shot would have been dangerous in the residential neighborhood and likely would be ineffective against the animal.

Larry Sitton, a senior wildlife biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game, said mountain lions are sometimes nocturnal creatures - particularly when they can see after dark, as was the case Sunday, the day after the full moon.

``They can be active during any time of the day, depending on when they last ate and what the temperature is,'' Sitton said.

Santa Clarita is on the edge of foothills and national forest that are mountain lion habitat; Sitton and Sheriff's Department officials said the animal probably wandered through town via the Santa Clara River and its south fork.

Although deer are the staple of the big cats' diet, they will eat whatever they can find. ``They are opportunistic feeders - they'll take what they can get,'' Sitton said. ``They can get a rabbit or a raccoon. . . . They'll take dogs, cats, just about anything they can find,'' he said.

Lt. Steve Dolan said mountain lion sightings aren't common in Santa Clarita, but in the past the animals have been seen in neighborhoods throughout the valley.

``This is mountain lion country, and we've moved into their area,'' Dolan said.

Deputies don't have any equipment or expertise in dealing with a wild animal, other than to keep the animal in sight until animal control officials arrive to tranquilize and capture the beast, said Dolan of the Santa Clarita Valley station.

At Valencia Valley Elementary School, Principal Wayne Abruzzo sent letters home to parents alerting them of the sightings near their campus.

Sitton said mountain lions can range in size from 60 to 135 pounds, and generally they avoid human contact. ``They're very secretive. They generally slink away,'' he said.

If someone should come face to face with one of the animals, the person should act aggressive to scare it away - such as shouting, waving your hands above your head or throwing objects at it, Sitton recommended.

``The worst thing you can do is turn around and run,'' Sitton said, explaining that the animal's natural instinct is to give chase to what it perceives as vulnerable prey. ``That stimulates something in them that they can't control,'' he said.

Meanwhile, nobody - except the small animal in the lion's mouth - appeared to have been hurt by the mountain lion, Goodwin said. A man, apparently oblivious to the nearby predator, was walking his dog on the paseo as the deputy followed it along the path.

``It was kind of scary to see him come into town like that,'' Goodwin said. ``Being attacked was not really a concern to me. He already had his dinner.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 25, 1997
Words:716
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