A Monte Rio family suspect a bear killed their two goats this week after several encounters with the animal in and around their livestock pen.
Retired postal worker Consuela O'Malley found one of her Mini-Oberhasli goats had been killed at about 1 p.m. Tuesday in an outdoor pen on the Bonita Terrace property where she's lived for 20 years.
She and her husband, Tom, returned at 9 p.m. for one last check on the surviving goat secured in a barn. They saw a bear in the flashlight's beam.
"He saw the bear jump out of the fence, out of the pen, climb a tree close by," O'Malley said. "The bear looked at him, ran down the tree and ran off."
The glimpses of the bear were the latest in a series of sightings in wooded areas near Sebastopol, Occidental, Camp Meeker and Monte Rio.
Once a rare sight in west Sonoma County, bears have been popping up in backyards, nosing around compost bins, climbing railings, sniffing around sheds and even swimming in a pool.
Many have described a cinnamon-colored bear weighing between 150 and 200 pounds, perhaps a newly independent juvenile. The sightings could involve the same bear or not.
O'Malley said she initially suspected a loose dog had attacked the first goat. But she now suspects it was the bear that killed the first goat and later broke through a plywood door and killed the second animal, a pregnant female named Bellah.
The bear was sitting outside their repaired fence Wednesday when the couple returned to fetch the carcasses. It looked at them, then ran away. The goats had been killed, but didn't appear to have been eaten, O'Malley said.
"Even though he killed my sweet little animals, I don't have a grudge against him, I just wish he or she could live in its own little world," O'Malley said.
O'Malley said she hadn't yet contacted Fish and Wildlife because she didn't want harm to come to the bear and hoped it would move on.
Sacramento-area Warden Mark Michilizzi warned against assuming the bear is culpable for the goat deaths.
"Bear attacks on livestock are rare, but they do happen," said Michilizzi, who was not familiar with the Sonoma County case and spoke from his experience.
A bear is more likely to break into a livestock pen to chomp on grains than to attack a goat. But the bear could have been startled by the goat and killed it during its quest for grain, he said.
"Or maybe the goats were killed by another predator and the bear found them," Michilizzi said.
Fish and Wildlife staff take livestock deaths seriously and will investigate to determine as best they can how an animal died, he said.
Clues like hair, fur or tracks left behind as well as the method of death can help biologists pinpoint a likely predator.
Punctures at the base of the neck and an elongated neck might indicate a mountain lion bit its prey by the neck and dragged it around, Michilizzi said.
Evidence the predator fed on the rear and hindquarters might indicate a canine was the predator.
"We'd have to see the scene to draw better conclusions," Michilizzi said.
Once an animal starts killing livestock, it tends to do it again, Michilizzi said.