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Is a mountain lion stalking Penngrove?

Tips for living in mountain lion country:

Don’t feed deer; it is illegal in California and it will attract mountain lions.

Deer-proof your landscaping by avoiding plants that deer like to eat. For tips, request A Gardener’s Guide to Preventing Deer Damage from DFG offices.

Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.

Don’t leave small children or pets outside unattended.

Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.

Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats, and other vulnerable animals.

Don’t allow pets outside when mountain lions are most active—dawn, dusk, and at night.

Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums and other potential mountain lion prey.

If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.

If attacked, fight back.

If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.

- California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Rumored sightings of a mountain lion in Penngrove neighborhoods coupled with sheep deaths residents believe can be attributed to the large cat have stirred fears for some in the rural area.

Officials from Sonoma County Animal Services and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife responded to Penngrove, but were unable to confirm if a mountain lion is indeed prowling the area’s bucolic ranches. Still, residents have reported unsettling sightings near Penngrove Elementary School and in neighborhoods and speculation has abounded on social media site Nextdoor.

“Animal Services staff have not verified mountain lion sightings or the cause of reported livestock injuries,” Sonoma County’s Department of Health Services Interim Public Information Officer Andrew Leonard wrote in an email.

Staff have responded multiple times to related calls, including reports of a dead sheep on a Penngrove property Feb. 23, but there was no way to verify how the animal died as it had already been “visited by vultures,” he said.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Senior Environmental Scientist Conrad Jones said the agency received no reports of sightings or killings related to mountain lions, but he checked out the scene after spotting social media conversations. He also spoke with the county’s wildlife specialist Jeff Furlong, who visited the area several days after the sightings. Neither were able to confirm the presence of a puma.

He encouraged the public to contact his department at 944-5500 if there’s a sighting or incident suspected to be linked to the large cat, and to call 9-1-1 if there’s a belief a threat is eminent.

“Don’t wait days to contact us if you have a sighting or an observation or an incident,” he said. “It makes it infinitely more difficult for us to effectively manage the situation if we’re getting information fourth or fifth hand and four to five days later,” he said.

Sarah Keiser, a Penngrove rancher, said her neighbor’s security camera recently captured nighttime footage of the mountain lion on the prowl. She guards her livestock with trained dogs that protect against coyotes and other canines, but she fears a mountain lion could harm her dogs and her farm animals.

“Every night, it’s very worrisome,” she said.

Dianne Steele, the buyer manager at downtown Penngrove’s Frizelle Enos, said the feed store is hub for trading stories and local news.

“There’s a little bit of panic and a little bit of concern,” she said. “From what I’ve been hearing about the particular cat, it’s been seen by one lady who got pretty close to it and it laid there watching them waving their hands in the air and it got up and turned away real slowly. This cat in this area doesn’t seem to have the natural fear (of humans.)”

Monty Sullivan, a Penngrove rancher who said he called Sonoma County Animal Services to report incidents of attacks to a neighbor’s sheep he believed involved a mountain lion, said he’s also uneasy. He said in an ideal situation, the cougar would be trapped and relocated to a remote wilderness area.

“It makes us nervous because it’s not acting like a normal mountain lion – it’s in residential areas 30 feet from houses,” he said “It attacks pets, and generally mountain lions are deterred by human activity but this one seems not to be and that causes a lot of people to pause.”

Tips for living in mountain lion country:

Don’t feed deer; it is illegal in California and it will attract mountain lions.

Deer-proof your landscaping by avoiding plants that deer like to eat. For tips, request A Gardener’s Guide to Preventing Deer Damage from DFG offices.

Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.

Don’t leave small children or pets outside unattended.

Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.

Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats, and other vulnerable animals.

Don’t allow pets outside when mountain lions are most active—dawn, dusk, and at night.

Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums and other potential mountain lion prey.

If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.

If attacked, fight back.

If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.

- California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Keiser and Sullivan have not seen the cat, but Sullivan wrote on Nextdoor that he’s “certain that it’s a mountain lion.”

The conversation piqued the interest of Quinton Martins, the lead researcher on the Audubon Canyon Ranch’s “Living with Lions” project. The 2-year-old project captures and outfits mountain lions in Sonoma County with GPS collars and uses the data from those collars for research purposes.

He said mountain lions pose a “highly insignificant” threat to humans and the chances of people being attacked or killed are “far more remote than being impaled on your tooth brush.” Between 1986 and 2014, there were 12 nonfatal attacks to humans by mountain lions and three fatal attacks, none of which took place in Sonoma County, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Where people have this tendency to want to remove or kill a mountain lion, we can safely say it makes no sense, particularly in an area like ours … the reality is that if you remove an animal, another one is going to be coming right in,” he said.

Mountain lions’ territory covers hundreds of miles, including thousands of private parcels, he said, and he encouraged farmers to protect their livestock.

He hopes to address the community at a forum, which has yet to be scheduled, to assuage fears. He asked residents to contact Audubon Canyon Ranch if the cat is seen.

“The most important part is that people are made aware and are educated about the mountain lions so we can allay their fears,” he said.