By Todd Wels
Triplicate staff writer
SMITH RIVER For Terri Eller and the California Department of Fish and Game, a recent mountain lion attack is a potent reminder that much of Del Norte County lies at the edge of thousands of acres of wilderness.
Ive seen all kinds of wildlife in here, from bears to coyotes, Eller said, regarding her property, which lies just behind E & E Market on U.S. Highway 101. The one kind of animal she had never seen before this week was a mountain lion.
On Wednesday night, a 140-pound mountain lion entered her property, killing five adult and three young goats.
The mountain lion had disemboweled one goat for consumption, leaving the others intact.
Eller called the California Department of Fish and Game the next day, and was issued a permit to shoot the mountain lion.
On Thursday night, her friend Jim Campbell successfully hunted and shot the mountain lion, which had returned to feed on the disemboweled goat.
According to Fish and Game Warden Don Kelly, his department receives approximately 12 reports of livestock killings and mutilations per year.
Unlike this case, however, most of the killings are done by a far less exotic animal.
Dogs are probably the culprit in 80 percent of these cases, he said.
The other 20 percent is split evenly between bears and mountain lions. Of the two, bears are less dangerous, despite their larger size, because of their less predatory nature, Kelly said.
Bears are omnivorous, he said. Theyll eat anything.
According to Kelly, that means bears can be easily dissuaded from one food source, and will simply move on to another.
Therefore, Fish and Game issues few predation permits for bears. Instead it recommends that home and ranch owners take simple measures, such as covering trash and bringing pet or animal feed inside at night.
Mountain lions are a different story.
An adult male mountain lion has a range of more than 100 square miles.
Unlike a bear, who will only chase prey if it is hungry, mountain lions have what Kelly called a fleeing prey response. That response will cause a mountain lion to chase down and kill running prey, even though it is not hungry.
Kelly cited the fact that the mountain lion that killed Ellers goats began eating only one of them, though it had killed all eight as an example of this phenomenon.
A permit may also be issued to shoot a mountain lion even if there is no damage to livestock, provided the threat posed by a lion to livestock or humans could be demonstrated.
A sighting is not enough, he said.
He added that mountain lions are a protected species under California State Law, and it is illegal to hunt them without a permit.
Terri Eller echoed his sentiments, saying: I dont want people with guns coming out here thinking theyre the great white hunter.