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Blog | The Lion's Eye: Getting Along With Lions

Learning to get along with the famous.

If a mountain lion came in the night, right outside your house, would you rush out with a bowl of milk? Don’t you dare!!! The lion would see your behavior as an aggressive gesture and probably reply in kind (that means it would attack back, not offer you a café mocha). You have to see things through the Lion’s Eye.

My wife and I used to have a wonderful dog, named Bear. He was a big white fluffy Great Pyrenees. The neighborhood kids loved to hug him and would try to go for a ride each time they saw him. He would just kind of stretch out and they’d climb on board. Then, one day, my neighbor came over, he was returning a long wrench he had borrowed. It was a good thing Bear was attached to a large tree with a steel cable. He got to the far end of that cable pretty quick, heading for my neighbor, and almost took out the tree. He went for our neighbor because he perceived a threat to me as John handed me the wrench. Bear saw my neighbor as coming at me with a steel weapon and was not going to let that happen. Afterwards, I saw my dog in a different light. So did my neighbor. With Bear around, no one in the neighborhood needs a 12 gauge in the night.

If somebody cuts me off on Malibu Canyon Road and I race back around them, slam on my brakes cutting them back, while giving them the finger, it’s going to get really nasty, really quickly. That would be stupid, but that does not mean it doesn’t happen along PCH. It’s best to assume the other driver will react very badly and you might just have to bite your finger. My traffic school teacher assured me of that not too long ago and I believe him. Get to know your own behavior as well as that of your special neighbors. You, me and Bear may do unusual things under special conditions.

Do you have a celebrity living next door? Are they not like you? Have you made some adjustments to their behavior in deference to their fame? Perhaps you are the celebrity next store and you are making adjustments to folks who are not famous. Contrary to the opinion of some, we actually have been getting along quite well with lions for the entire life-time of every lion living here in the Santa Monica Mountains. Despite the fact that many people have killed quite a few lions around here, no lion has ever attacked a person in the entire history of the Santa Monica Mountains. Unlike the Hatfields and the McCoys, they apparently are just not into vengeance. They have adjusted to their neighbors, too.

Similarly, in Yosemite National Park, which has 4 million visitors each year and a lot more lions than we do, there have been no attacks by lions. The lions just stay away from us. The next time you and your family visit Yosemite, say hello to Woody Smeck, the Park Superintendent. He used to supervise SMMNRA and might like to hear from an old neighbor. I know he’s happy when I send him a note.

Between 1907 and 1972 the State of California killed off 12,500 lions for predator control and the lions don’t know we have stopped. If you think that the memory doesn’t linger on, have you ever watched fifth generation garbage bears show their cubs how to open garbage cans in Sequoia National Park or perhaps baby ducks paddling along behind their Mom in the Lagoon? Behavior travels from generation to generation, whether you agree that it does or not. My theory is, that’s why the lions leave us alone, but what do I know?

When I ask people about the risk of attack by a lion, they tell me stories of bears in Glendale, lumping all wild things and wild places into something to talk about. I suspect they feel threatened by all wild things and are glad to substitute a bear in Glendale for a lion on the Backbone Trail. If they're honest, they will tell you about being attacked by some animal when they were young. By the way, Meatball has apparently found a new fenced-in residence in San Diego, with the assistance of the DFG. They want to send him to Colorado, but have not yet been able to, yet.

Some people believe that if there is a lion around, their family would be the first to be attacked. They certainly would be the first around here. As you have witnessed, people commenting on this blog have seen lions face to face recently. In Dume Canyon, S. M. Smith had a close encounter (25 yards) and both he and his mountain bike escaped O.K.. Another guy on a bike in Santa Barbara last month saw one before it saw him near Cachuma Pass. The lion evaporated as soon as they made eye contact. A lady who’s been in central Malibu for many years with whom I spoke at a talk I gave not that long ago, saw one near her home about 15 years ago. The memory was one she was proud to relate. TVLady saw one on a ridge near Lake Lopez in San Luis Obispo. VPA saw one recently near Budwood Ranch. LW saw one in Big Sycamore Canyon in Pt. Mugu State Park and another where Yerba Buena Rd crosses the Backbone trail. None of them made physical contact.

A wildlife conservation friend of mine in Westlake Village has seen them pursuing deer in the canyon below her home on a ridge, high above the lake. Several acquaintances and I met at her place a few years ago with a professional lion tracker named Dr. James HalfPenny, from Wyoming, to learn all about lions and their tracks. Jim has a Phd in Biology and in Ecology and he tracks lions and wolves in Yellowstone Park. He also has traveled all over the world tracking animals, including above the Arctic Circle. All these folks have seen lions with their own eyes and the lions in each and every real case, just wandered off, leaving them alone. Jim’s neighbors in Cheyenne will tell you a different story. I go with the guy with the Phd.

The popular myth that lions attack people at every opportunity is not borne out by fact in the cases that you and I are aware of right here in Malibu. People have lost their dogs, but dogs behave badly sometimes, ask my neighbor. Maybe we can tolerate the lions if we are not so hysterically terrified of them. Do you know that Lions are hunted with dedicated lion hounds by hunters who train them to do so? Google “Houndhunting”. One of my next articles will be on the NRA.

Life on actual mountain trails is different from life on a couch. Speaking of HDTV, if you’re watching the news recently, risk of exposure to Hantavirus to 10,000 visitors to Curry Village in Yosemite Valley has occured. The deer mice left the deadly hemmoragic fever virus in their feces and urine deposits in those warmly insulated tents. The unoccupied tents helped to dry out the deposits, which turned into dust when people walked in. People sleeping in the tents inhale the dust in the night. THAT’S the stuff of nightmares.

What can you learn from the lions? Ask the ranger/scientists who work with them. What we know ABOUT them is where they live, where and when they travel, what they eat and how they don’t get along with each other very well. But what can we learn FROM them is different. Don’t give me a bad time about lions not speaking English or how I feel about trees. Open up your brain and don’t sit and wait to be spoon-fed wisdom. There are no Cliff’s Notes or “Wisdom for Idiots” books that I am aware of. Lions’ actions speak louder than words, think about their behavior. They frequent the open spaces where the deer live and there’s no pollution. But, wait a minute, isn’t that why you moved here? It sure is why I did. If there is a lion in the next canyon, you’re probably not lulled to sleep by the traffic there. Then Google “ Newmark Warning” and our National Parks.

The Edge thinks having a big place with its own road system, a lot of guest houses and an ocean view is worth spending some bucks on.  He seems to like open spaces and lots of room to live his life, free from bothersome neighbors. Unfortunately for the rocker, the Coastal Commission and the lions have something in common. Neither one of them appear to like obnoxious, ridgeline builders. See, the lion’s aren’t so bad. I’m not as certain about the Coastal Commission, though.

I could write a lot about comparisons of survival of the fittest and de facto alpha predator behavior on the part of people and how we live our collective lives eliminating threats to our general well-being. Think of how we kill off lions with high speed cars and trucks and D-Con and depredation permits. If you know of someone killed by a drunk driver like I do, it doesn’t matter if the driver meant it or not or even knew they did it, you’ve still lost your friend.

One person writing comments on my early articles for Patch is convinced that lions do not have long to live around here. That’s wishful thinking. I suggest that that person take a closer look at the survival skills of lions and learn something new about their adaptive behavior. Think of the coyotes that live in Griffith Park or our local foxes. The First People here in the West learned from the behavior of coyotes and ravens and foxes long before Luther Burbank or Charles Darwin started writing scientific treatises. Maybe they had something going. Is your mind fit enough to learn from a coyote or a fox? How about an Apache? I did all of the above, it’s not that hard.

Also, in this vein, I’d like to recommend a book called “Becoming Animal” by David Abram. You’ll see wild life in a different way. Warning, you may have to sink low enough to admitting to your very well hidden genetically dictated character traits.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Glenn E Grab September 09, 2012 at 04:49 PM
John......yeah, great ideas, except when they don't work......or if you get attacked from behind, or the animals are really hungry, or just pissed off...it's a little tough to "move on" after you've been mauled by a lion or a bear...my advice is don't hike there, or bring a pistol....
Robert Coutts September 09, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Bill I love Ashland, Oregon but know nothing about the mountain Lion situation there. Have there been any attacks on people by Lions in the local mountains?. My wife and I did a great Llama treking picnic in the forest near Ashland once. We both enjoyed getting to know our llamas. Mine was quite different than hers and the trekers' lead animal had quite a personality, It was checking out decisions we made all the time. Have you ever seen a llama spit? You'd remeber if you had.
Robert Coutts September 09, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Bill I'll try to keep my blogs shorter. My point was that, all these people had had lion encounters where they made eye contact with lions and the lions left them alone. Most people believe that if there is a lion around that it will attack.There are lions around here frequently in the mountains, ask the NPS rangers about their GPS location data, you just don't see the lions because they don't want you to. It actually doesn't matter if our lions are along civilization's edge or in the back country where I hike frequently, they do not and they have not in all the cases I cited, want to have anything to do with us. By the way. here in the Santa Monica Mountains, they are all on the edge. The problem is perception of the lions and not the attacks that have never actually occured here. It's like with Pit Bulls. If your neighbor has one, what do you do?
Robert Coutts September 09, 2012 at 05:24 PM
John Thanks a lot for your great advice, I very much appreciate it. Being an informed person has it all over just making up stories as you go. If all you face is a 50 inch Sony flatscreen with blueray HDTV, it's not the same, even with five speaker HD sound. I just hope that the sow is as informed as you and I are, the next time the John Muir pass is two days back.
John September 10, 2012 at 04:57 AM
Glenn, walk away from the tv since we all know you would most likely mess your pants or hurt an innocent person with the John Wayne bs and a gun. Roberty, unlike most my recommendations come from real life experience from living with these animals. If you "garbage" bear was in Yosemite, it would have been up at Hetch Hetchy and Woody although not by name but by sight would vouche for my experience. I hope you never spend an overnight sleep at Sunrise in the high country as it would be a real experience for you over the Topanga Cyn. life you are confortable with.

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