Orange County man records close encounter with mountain lion – NBC Los Angeles

on Jul17
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In a heart-pounding encounter, an Orange County man came face-to-face with a mountain lion while hiking on a trail Wednesday evening.

Mark Girardeau, a wildlife photographer, was in the Trabuco Canyon area of Orange County checking his motion-activated cameras in the area when he noticed the big cat staring at him.

“I was on my way up the hill to check some other cameras when I suddenly spotted her,” he recalled. “She was sitting there, just a couple hundred feet away, staring right at me.”

Girardeau was able to keep his composure and quickly pulled his phone out to record the encounter which lasted for several minutes. When he decided to retreat back to his car, the mountain lion unexpectedly started walking towards him.

“I was getting nervous because I didn’t know what she was going to do,” he said.

He took precautions by stepping off the trail and creating distance, while ensuring he remained calm. The mountain lion, known as “Uno” due to an eye injury that causes only one eye to reflect light at night, continued on her path, passing Girardeau safely.

Mountain lion eyes glow on camera at night. Uno, pictured above, gets her name from an eye injury that causes only one eye to reflect at night. Credit: Mark Girardeau

To his surprise, the mountain lion made a second appearance, walking past his car just a few feet away. The unexpected encounter provided Girardeau with another video, shot from the safety of his vehicle.

Uno, a well-known resident in the area, has been encountered by hikers and mountain bikers over the past five years, according to Girardeau.

“She tends to frequent places where people are, unlike other mountain lions that tend to be more reclusive. So, she’s been one of the most encountered mountain lions in the area,” he explained.

Girardeau, who has been photographing local wildlife since 2014, is no stranger to run-ins with big cats. This encounter is his fifth meeting with a mountain lion.

“Each time it is scary, though,” he added. “It’s really awesome to see one, but you also don’t want to see one that close to you.”

Orange County is home to a limited number of mountain lions that live in the Santa Ana Mountains surrounded by dense concentrations of human development. However, sightings of these cats are still extremely rare. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has only received 109 reports of mountain lion sightings in Orange County in the last five years, totaling to around 21 sightings a year.

Female mountain lion Uno. Credit: Mark Girardeau

Still, “when you enter their domain, it’s good to understand how to behave around them,” Girardeau said, emphasizing the importance of being prepared for wildlife encounters while outdoors.

“If you come across a mountain lion, always stand your ground and make yourself look bigger. If you’re in a group, stand side by side to show the lion how big and numerous you are,” he advised.

Girardeau stressed the importance of staying educated when it comes to wildlife. “They’re always portrayed as these scary animals that are waiting to pounce on humans, but it’s good to know that mountain lions are just living their own lives, trying to do their own thing,” he said.

Dispelling common misconceptions about mountain lions and understanding how to behave around them ensures both safety and peaceful coexistence between the native cats and humans, Girardeau added.

Here’s a full list of recommendations from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife of what to do during a mountain lion encounter:

  • Do not hike, bike, or jog alone. Stay alert on trails.
  • Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active – dawn, dusk, and at night.
  • Keep a close watch on small children.
  • Off leash dogs on trails are at increased risk of becoming prey for a mountain lion.
  • Never approach a mountain lion. Give them an escape route.
  • DO NOT RUN. Stay calm. Running may trigger chase, catch and kill response. Do not turn your back. Face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms, or opening your jacket if wearing one; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.
  • Do not crouch down or bend over. Squatting puts you in a vulnerable position of appearing much like a 4-legged prey animal.
  • Be vocal; however, speak calmly and do not use high pitched tones or high pitch screams. 
  • Teach others how to behave during an encounter. Anyone who runs may initiate an attack.
  • If a lion attacks, fight back. Research on mountain lion attacks suggests that many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, garden tools, even an ink pen or bare hands. Try to stay on your feet. If knocked down, try to protect head and neck. 
  • If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.
  • Report unusual mountain lion behavior to your local CDFW regional office.

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