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Researcher: Mountain lion captured near Rohnert Park schools has ‘neurological disorder’

A mountain lion that was surrounded by Rohnert Park police Monday morning after she was discovered about three football fields away from her home turf is undergoing a medical evaluation that will likely last a few days.

The 5-year-old feline’s weight, which is normally about 80 pounds, is down about 25% to 30%, said Dr. Dan Famini, a veterinarian with Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue, a nonprofit southwest of Rohnert Park, where she was eventually taken Monday. He added that she also appears lethargic and dehydrated.

The big cat was spotted just before 8 a.m. in a dry creek bed near the junction of Five Creek and Crane Creek trails — an area where one might expect to find mountain lions, according to Famini.

“The general public would be surprised with how much wildlife we cohabitate with on a regular basis, he said.

As a precaution, authorities ordered two nearby schools to lock down while they waited for the animal to leave.

But she didn’t.

Police called for help from California Fish and Wildlife officials. Quinton Martins, a biologist who specializes in big cats, also responded.

Martins leads the Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Living With Lions project, which tracks big cats in the North Bay. He immediately recognized the animal as P26, affectionately known as Wobbly.

“We’ve known about her since she was about 3 months old,” Martins said. “She’s got a strange sort of neurological disorder, which she’s had since she was a kitten.”

Martins said he’s never seen the disorder in another big cat. Wobbly has challenges with balance when she walks and is slower than other mountain lions.

“But she’s quite capable of hunting normal, natural prey like deer,” he explained.

In March, Martins looped a collar outfitted with a GPS tracking device around the lion’s neck. He found that she lives in the Bennett Valley area and roams around Taylor Mountain Regional Park on Santa Rosa’s southeastern outskirts.

Martins suspects the lion was hunting on Sunday night as she darted through creek beds to Rohnert Park.

She was “just west of (her) home range” when she was reported by somebody out for a walk on Monday morning, said Ken Paglia, a California Fish and Wildlife spokesman.

“About 1,000 feet to the east of where (she) was spotted is open space territory,” he said.

Rohnert Park officials sent out a Nixle alert about 8 a.m. warning people to avoid the area.

Evergreen Elementary School and Lawrence E. Jones Middle School were locked down for nearly three hours.

When Martins arrived, Fish and Wildlife officials gave him the green light to shoot the lion with a tranquilizer dart.

After she was sedated, he checked her vital signs, scooped her up and loaded her into a truck.

From there, she was driven to Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue in Petaluma, where she would “have another assessment and then we’ll decide what happens from there,” Paglia said.

Staff at the rescue center worried the mountain lion was having health problems.

Dozens of mountain lions live in Sonoma County and they typically avoid humans and are only likely to be aggressive when cornered. But that’s not what happened Monday.

“It wasn’t hiding and being its usual reclusive self,” Famini said, adding that Wobbly’s medical evaluation could take a few days.

He added that there’s sufficient prey in the area and Wobbly didn’t appear because her normal routine was disrupted by unusual factors, such as California’s ongoing drought.

“It would not have been sitting there if it was perfectly healthy,” said Doris Duncan, the center’s executive director. “If it even heard anybody coming it would be in hiding. They don’t ever stay out in the open like that. They’re afraid of people.”

Workers at the rescue center prepared a cozy den for Wobbly, making sure there was enough foliage and branches for the big cat to feel at home while they monitored her.

“If the lion’s deemed healthy enough to go back into the wild, we’ll release (her) to a nearby suitable habitat,” Paglia said.

But if she’s found to have severe health issues, officials will euthanize her or look for a rehabilitation center where she can live, he said.

It’s common for mountain lions in Sonoma County to roam in populated areas, according to Martins, the biologist. The big cats that he tracks spend more of their time on private properties around the county than they spend in open space preserves.

“People living in Sonoma County are living with lions,” Martins said. “But they’re an insignificant threat to people from a human safety point of view.”

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com and Alana Minkler at alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com and Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com.

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