Mountain lion captured in Granada Hills

Mountain lion captured in Granada Hills, returned to wild

He was first seen prowling in the early morning hours at a San Fernando Valley high school, where the campus mascot is a cougar.

He was later captured in the front yard of a nearby home where stone lion statues adorn the entrance.

Wildlife experts were unsure Friday what lured a large puma to John F. Kennedy High School in Granada Hills early Friday, then later into surrounding neighborhoods. But authorities said they were grateful that the big cat, estimated to be about 3 years old, was safely tranquilized, captured and returned to the wild later Friday.

“Everything worked out perfectly,” said Lt. J.C. Healy with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “It couldn’t have happened any better.”

The drama unfolded Friday morning on live video from ABC Channel 7’s helicopter.

Fish and Wildlife officials arrived before 11 a.m. at the high school, where the 110-pound cat had been seen earlier by cafeteria workers. They called school police, which launched a response by Los Angeles Police Department, animal control, and state Fish and Wildlife officials. The mountain lion was cornered for a time before fleeing into the residential neighborhood just southwest of the Los Angeles Unified campus, which had been locked down. The big cat later was found in Armando and Dora Villanueva’s fenced frontyard in the 16400 block of Donmetz Street, not far from San Fernando Mission Road. Their home features stone statues of lions near the entrance, but the couple did not find the irony amusing. Both said they believed their lives were in danger.

“My husband had just closed the door because of the wind, and then we saw it,” Dora Villanueva said. “It looked at me through the window. I thought it was going to break the window and come in. I was so scared.”

Healy said he was able to shoot a tranquilizer dart into the lion’s backside, but the puma resisted the effects of the drug for several minutes.

“He was a tough cat,” Healy said of the way the animal continued to move. When it was safe, experts had to administer more tranquilizers to make sure he had passed out. All the while, animal control and LAPD kept their automatic weapons on the lion. He was then placed in the bed of a pickup and later released into the wild. Meanwhile, police closed neighboring streets and parents circled the area looking for their children. Some students who left early said they knew the cat was lingering on campus but never saw it.

Unlike many pumas in the area, the mountain lion was not tagged or known to officials, Healy said. The big cat appeared to be about 90 pounds, but it was thin for his size and age and may have come down in search of food, Healy noted.

Andrew Hughan, spokesman for state Fish and Wildlife, said that while Valley residents might be surprised by the cat’s sojourn, it’s not all that unusual.

“In the state, it happens every day. But it’s pretty unusual for it to be right in the middle of day in Los Angeles near a school,” Hughan said of the giant cats roaming into urban areas.

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Most mountain lions stay in natural habitats, wildlife experts have said, though males tend to wander farther to establish their own range and find females. With more freeways and development coming up against wildlife corridors, some mountain lions do roam into urban areas. In 2012, a young mountain lion was shot and killed near the Santa Monica Promenade after experts tried to tranquilize it, but it became agitated and police believed it posed a danger to pedestrians. Last year, a mountain lion known as P-32, was killed by a vehicle on Interstate 5 near Castaic.

In March, a popular local puma known as P-22 apparently mauled a koala bear to death at the Los Angeles Zoo.

•RELATED STORY: Mountain Lion P-22 not likely to be put down for koala killing

Prime mountain lion habitat is close to Granada Hills because the community is adjacent to the Santa Susana Mountains. Friday’s Granada Hills visit by the mountain lion may have occurred for many reasons, Hughan added.

“It could have been chasing prey in the middle of the night and woke up in the morning and said, ‘Hey, what am I doing here,’ ” Hughan said.

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