Cool mountain lion gets YouTube moment

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A Cool mountain lion is getting YouTube exposure. Auburn photographer James Cole started setting up a remote-control game camera on 40 acres of property he has in the Cool area. Over the past eight months, he’s tinkered with it until he can just about capture any moving animal that passes through the viewfinder area. A fox stalked a mouse and then stared directly at the infrared camera one dark night. On another, two coyotes roamed through as the camera – attached to a tree with wire – captured the action. A motion detector turns the camera on and off while Cole is sleeping at his Auburn home. Every week, he’ll go out to the site, replace the camera card and see what appears on his computer screen. Last week, the camera was able to pick up the motion of a slow-moving cougar as it walked along a dirt road, it’s tail providing a tell-tale sign that it was the real thing. “I’ve seen plenty of coyotes, lots of bobcats, an owl and deer – and finally the cougar,” Cole said. He’s since posted the brief sequence on a loop on YouTube. Getting into game-camera photography starts with a camera available at many outdoor stores that sells for under $100 on sale, Cole said. “They’ve become so compact,” he said. “Anyone can get one for less than $100 and soon start seeing things they would have missed.” After tinkering the first few weeks and learning even swaying blades of grass or tree branches trip the motion detector, Cole took steps like manicuring the grass in front of the lens. The camera itself is stuck about four feet up a tree and aimed at a pathway or road that animals would likely use. “It was trial and error,” Cole said. “It’s interesting to see something you usually don’t see sometimes in a lifetime.” While the animals ignore the camera as they go about their daily quest to survive in the wild, Cole said he’ll change one nighttime activity. “I sleep on top of the picnic table at night on the property from time to time,” Cole said. “I think I’ve decided not to do that any more.” Five questions about cougars answered James Cole’s footage reminds foothills residents that mountain lions are part of the urban-wildland interface. Here are five key questions about cougars answered by the Department of Fish and Game: How often are mountain lions declared public safety threats in California? The department receives hundreds of reported mountain lion sightings annually statewide, but fewer than three percent turn out to be verified public safety threats. During 2004, for example, there were 14 public safety mountain lions killed. What causes a mountain lion to display unusually bold behavior toward humans? Sometimes disease will cause an animal to behave strangely. Some mountain lions killed for public safety reasons have tested positive for feline leukemia. A mountain lion that attacked a man in Mendocino County in 1994 tested positive for rabies. Usually, there is no apparent explanation for why a mountain lion seems to abandon its instinctive wariness of humans. Mountain lions are typically solitary and elusive. Studies of collared mountain lions show that they often co-exist around people, unseen and unheard. If I live in mountain lion habitat, how concerned should I be for my safety? Statistically speaking, a person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. That said, mountain lions are wild animals and, like any wildlife, can be dangerous. People who live in mountain lion habitat can take precautions to reduce their risk of encountering a mountain lion. By deer-proofing the landscape, homeowners can avoid attracting a lion’s main food source. Removing dense vegetation from around the home and installing outdoor lighting will make it difficult for mountain lions to approach unseen. Are mountain lion attacks on humans common? Mountain lion attacks on humans are rare. There have been only 16 verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California since 1890, six of them fatal. The last documented attack occurred in January, 2007, in Humboldt County. How can I prevent a mountain lion attack? If you come upon a mountain lion on a trail, don’t spark their chase instinct by running away. Make yourself as big as possible by spreading your arms and standing tall. Look the animal in the eye and make loud, aggressive noises. If attacked, fight back.