NORTH FORK – A mountain lion that has repeatedly preyed on local livestock since last spring was euthanized overnight in the vicinity of Wyle Ranch Road near North Fork, according to Federal trapper Randy Partch. The lion’s remains have been transported to Fresno where authorities with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will perform tests including a necropsy.
This appears to be the same lion that has been on the radar of residents and authorities since March, when it killed at least 14 head of livestock in two separate instances. The lion first preyed on seven sheep and devoured them. That same month on another property, seven goats were attacked and killed, but were not eaten.
During March, the trapper was not on duty, as his contract with Madera County had been written for only nine months in an effort to cut County costs. When Partch’s contract was renewed in July for a full twelve months, the trapper returned to work and has been tracking this lion’s sporadic predation since then with no luck, until last night.
Earlier this week the saga took on further urgency, as authorities believe the same mountain lion killed five goats and a deer in two different locations, striking four nights in a row and sticking within roughly a five-mile radius.
A depredation permit was issued and a trap set out on Wednesday night. The lion failed to return to the location that night. Believing the lion was prone to kill for sport, based on the number of kills over time, Partch crafted a new plan. He fixed the trap near Wyle Ranch Road with a live goat, while assuring the prey would remain safe.
Just as Partch thought he would, the North Fork lion tried to take the bait and was immediately caught. In keeping with the terms of the permit issued, the lion was euthanized by homeowners at approximately 1:30 a.m. on Friday, Sept. 25, and Partch was called to the scene first thing in the morning.
Partch reports that the trap contained a very large, male mountain lion of indeterminate age. The lion was turned over to Fish and Wildlife this morning for further investigation. Among other details, the necropsy will reveal the approximate age of the full-grown mountain lion by determining the length of its canine teeth. The homeowners who have suffered the repeated predation are reported to be relieved.
Partch had perceived a pattern with this lion back in July after a goat was dragged about 40 feet away from where it was taken. Within a day or so, a second goat was missing, and it had also been dragged about 40 feet down a ridge. It’s precisely this kind of detail that can help authorities keep track of which particular lion is preying on local livestock. Each has their own distinctive modus operandi.
Some people wonder why he’s not using dogs to track the mountain lion, Partch says, explaining why that wouldn’t work in this case: in order to use tracking dogs — which works very well in some circumstances — permission must be garnered from every single landowner over whose property the posse crosses. That’s impractical in a neighborhood where parcels are just a couple acres in size, which means nothing to a mountain lion on the move.
Partch says that killing the mountain lion was the last resort, and both he and the CDFW encourage anyone who lives in the foothills and keeps small livestock to lock them up at night in some type of structure that has sturdy sides and a good roof.
“You live in their country,” reminds Partch, “and they make up the rules.”
The North Fork residents who lost livestock in these springtime incidents and more recently, were issued depredation permits by the CDFW. The permits are good for only ten days. While the CDFW issues the permits, they do not carry out the trapping or killing of a problem animal. That agency is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Other than permitted residents under special circumstances, only certified trappers with specific experience and the proper permit can attempt to trap or kill wildlife that is perceived as a threat to livestock or humans. Randy Partch has been trapping and dealing with errant animals for more than 25 years, and he still has a busy season ahead of him.
Yesterday, Partch reported frustration over another mountain lion preying on livestock in the Coarsegold/Oakhurst area within a five-mile radius of Deadwood Lookout off of Road 425C.
A homeowner in that area has reportedly lost about 25 goats since May. The same mountain lion, Partch profiles, has also struck down on 425B as recently as July, and has taken a total of about 40 goats this year. Whereas the North Fork mountain lion was prone to drag a carcass away after its kill, this Deadwood area lion apparently prefers to eat his meal right in the pen. One goat gets eaten, they all get killed.
Partch says it’s like putting ten mice in a box and then adding a cat. The mice will scurry around, the cat’s predatory instincts will kick in and the cat will kill all the mice fast, and then maybe eat one. The mountain lion’s behavior is similar: it jumps over the fence into an open-air pen, the goats get scared and start running around, the mountain lion gets excited and kills them all quickly. Mountain lions are among the most efficient of killers, locking their jaws on prey in such a way as to crush the esophagus quickly, smothering the animal with rapid force.
Since Tuesday of this week, the Deadwood area lion has killed about a dozen goats, according to Partch, who strongly recommends that people who own animals lock them up tight, which means not in an open pen or corral.
“You have to lock them up inside the barn,” he says. “There is no regulatory authority that forces you to do so, but it’s your responsibility to protect your livestock and pets however you need to do that. Lock them up until there’s no threat, or for however long you want to keep your animals.”
Moving what may be considered problem mountain lions is not an option, as it causes deadly conflicts with other mountain lions already living in the new area, or the relocated mountain lion returns.
Partch will continue to track the lion near Deadwood. He believes one of the reasons the mountain lion activity has increased of late is due to the ongoing drought.
“The bears have no berries; the mountain lions are hungry. Most predators are opportunistic feeders and will do whatever is easiest for them.”
Kellie Flanagan is Managing Editor of Sierra News Online