Mountain lion captured outside downtown Santa Rosa mall
A mountain lion captured outside Santa Rosa Plaza shopping mall Monday morning likely wandered into downtown from a nearby creek, wildlife officials said.
The animal was spotted before dawn walking along B Street near the mall entrance. Its urban adventure, which unfolded in front of dozens of downtown workers blocked from getting to their jobs, lasted more than five hours, before the mountain lion was hit with tranquilizer darts and loaded into a carrier to later be released in a rural area north of town.
“I didn’t expect to be late to work due to a mountain lion,” said Kharman Aidun, who waited with coworkers along B Street for the cat to be captured.
The mountain lion likely came from the nearby Santa Rosa Creek, officials said. Scared, it hunkered down for hours in bushes in a raised planter box near the eastside doors to Macy’s department store.
“When I got the call early this morning that it was at the mall I was shocked because I know Santa Rosa and that was smack in the middle of everything,” said Greg Martinelli, state wildlife lands program manager. “But then the reality set in that we had to act fast and figure out how to best handle this lion situation.”
While it’s not unusual for mountain lions to show up in rural neighborhoods and some urban areas, having one at a shopping mall is.
“It’s not common, going into a mall and things like that,” said Quinton Martins, a big cat expert who works on a local conservation program tracking area mountain lions.
The mall’s proximity to the creek, which runs through downtown and connects to rural west Santa Rosa, made it a likely path.
Being so young, the mountain lion wasn’t a real danger to the public, Martins said. But there could have been issues with people not knowing how to react. “It could have led to a complicated situation,” he said.
Police at about 4:20 a.m. received a 911 call about the mountain lion walking toward the mall. An officer spotted it a few minutes later at the mall’s main entrance, and within minutes a message went out to state officers to help catch it.
As the cat moved around the mall’s front doors, an officer snapped photos, showing it sitting near the iconic hand statue, which many visitors use as a photo prop. Officers kept their distance and watched, awaiting state officers who were equipped to deal with it.
The ordeal ended about 10 a.m. — just as many mall stores were slated to open.
California Fish and Wildlife officers tried four times to hit the juvenile mountain lion with darts, missing twice. The fourth dart fired did the job and the male animal, believed to be just under a year old and about 40 pounds, fell asleep enough to be picked up and put into the carrier.
It got a quick medical evaluation, one ear was tagged, and DNA was taken. By early afternoon it was released to a suitable rural habit north of Santa Rosa, Martinelli said.
“Getting it contained was our main goal before Fish and Wildlife arrived because this is not a person, we cannot just go up and put handcuffs on it,” Santa Rosa Police Lt. John Snetsinger said. “The animal was obviously scared, but it is still unpredictable so we could not do anything rash or too fast.”