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There’s a mountain lion roaming the Sunset, Golden Gate Park

Big cat is unlikely to bother humans

An aerial photo of San Francisco’s west side, with Golden Gate Park as a long, rectangular strip of green in the center. Photo by Hispalois/Wikicommons

On Friday, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department announced that there have been two confirmed sightings of a mountain lion on San Francisco’s west side since August 21. The agency warns Golden Gate Park and Lake Merced visitors to show caution.

Neighbors spotted a mountain lion at Lake Merced in August, and then on the west side of Golden Gate Park last Tuesday. It’s not clear if this is the same cat or different felines.

Parks Department spokesperson Tamara Aparton says “neither report describes aggressive behavior by the big cat toward humans, which is extremely rare. Mountain lions are quiet, solitary animals that avoid people. According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, there have been only 16 verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California since 1890, six of them fatal.”

Aparton adds that mountain lions “come and go from natural areas” and that our big cat visitor will in all likelihood leave SF soon.

Nevertheless, the city cautions to “keep pets on leash, and avoid hiking, biking or jogging alone, especially at dawn, dusk and night, when the cats are most active.”

The National Park Service (NPS) echoes the sentiment that mountain lions are generally not that big of a threat to humans, citing a statistic that deer are more likely to kill people (via car accidents) compared to mountain lions.

Even so, NPS tells visitors heading to known mountain lion territories to “hike in groups, with adults supervising children,” and to “keep children within your sight at all times.”

If confronted by a mountain lion, never run away, as running could stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase. Instead, NSP recommends to stand and face the animal, make eye contact, and, if it approaches or looks hostile, respond by exaggerating your size, making loud noises, and throwing sticks and rocks to drive the animal off.

NPS also cautions to avoid bending over or crouching during a mountain lion encounter, as this may increase the chances of it mistaking you for a four-legged prey animal.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife notes that there are probably as many as 6,000 mountain lions in the state at any given time, which it considers “relatively high.”