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Mountain lion caught in O.C. park will be kept in captivity

July 17, 2012 | 12:35 pm

The mountain lion caught at an Orange County park early Tuesday morning will be kept in captivity as long as he gets a clean bill of health, officials said.

The roughly 100-pound male mountain lion — guessed to be between 18 months and 2 years old — had been spotted several times in recent days along the Serrano Cow Trail at the Whiting Ranch Wilderness, said Capt. Dan Sforza of the Department of Fish and Game.

A Fish and Game warden went to the park Monday and came across the cat, which he shot with beanbag rounds and a pepper ball. The lion then crawled into some brush, at which point the warden baited a cage trap with roadkill and waited for the animal to emerge. It was caught about 3 a.m.

PHOTOS: Mountain lion captured in O.C. park

Mountain lion captured in O.C. parkOfficials initially worried something was wrong with the cat, which Sforza said displayed "very unusual behavior" by staying in one place for so long. The fact that the cat didn't run from humans — even after it was shot with beanbag rounds — is "very unusual behavior," he said.

Initially, officials thought the cat was a mother who kept a litter of kittens nearby, but that's clearly not the case, Sforza said. Male mountain lions typical roam areas up to 100 square miles, making the cat's reluctance to leave the park even more strange.

A veterinarian examined the cat Tuesday morning and didn't notice anything wrong with the animal's health, Sforza said. Provided the cat's blood work comes back clean, officials will relocate the animal to a facility as soon as possible.

Although the cat didn't quite pose a public safety threat, Sforza said officials decided that keeping the animal in captivity — as opposed to euthanizing it or releasing it back into the wild — "was the best option."

"We didn't feel comfortable leaving it," Sforza said. "It's not something we're going to do in every situation, but it just seemed to be the best fit."

O.C. Parks spokeswoman Marisa O'Neil told the Orange County Register the mountain lion was first spotted July 9, prompting rangers to close the trail and set up a video camera to catch the cat on tape.

Rangers found mountain lion tracks in a nearby creek bed, but after the camera didn't capture any activity and no new tracks were spotted, officials reopened the trail Friday.

But park officials closed the park again Monday and contacted Fish and Game after a video posted online showed a coyote barking at the cat as it crossed the trail.

Mountain lion sightings are not unusual in the park. In 2004, a 120-pound lion killed one bicyclist and mauled another at the park, marking the state's first fatal mountain lion attack in a decade. Authorities shot and killed the cat four days later and later determined through forensic tests it was the animal responsible for both attacks.

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— Kate Mather

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

Photo: Signs are posted on the Borrego trailhead at the entrance to Whiting Ranch warning hikers and mountain bikers of mountain lion sightings. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

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