The Lion in the Darkness
Such A Beautiful Animal
The Unnofficial Report
In the late 90's and into the early 2000's, I was a patrol supervisor for Wells Fargo/Pinkerton Security in Orange County, (Southern) California. I routinely patrolled the Orange County toll roads which caused me to spend numerous overnight hours in the wilderness areas of the Santa Ana mountains of the county. The California Mountain Lion is indiginous to this area and encroachment of civilization into their habitat had resulted in a large number of attacks on humans.
The following story is a rough draft of the report I had to file in 1999 regarding an incident that I had with one young Mountain Lion.
While on my routine patrol on the Orange County Toll Roads, I received a call to investigate a Vehicle vs. Mountain Lion incident near the Windy Ridge toll plaza. I was about twenty miles or so away from there, so I turned around and notified the dispatcher that I was enroute. It was 0130 AM
On the way I learned that the driver of the vehicle was the one that made the initial call, that the animal was dead, and that he had drug the beast off of the road to the shoulder. I was feeling mixed emotions about the death of this animal, but I was relieved that I would not be in any danger since I was not armed.
Arriving at the scene, I applied my yellow caution lights, and combed the shoulder for the animal. I did not see it anywhere. Assuming the animal managed to run away or was dragged off by others, I decided to continue on into the Windy Ridge Plaza. But then I found it. It was a beautiful creature, lying on the gore point of the plaza entrance. He (it was a male) had some blood coming from his mouth, and there were blood marks on the pavement in a pattern that looked like he rolled a short distance. Not too far away from him was the right front quarterpanel of a blue 1999 Grand Prix. “Serves him right!” I thought.
I parked the patrol vehicle on the shoulder, and walked out to the site where the animal laid. The animal appeared dead until I was about three feet from it. He stood up on all fours, facing me. I looked back at the truck, and estimated it to be about 75 feet away.
“There’s no way I could make it.” I thought to myself. I began speaking to the lion in a soft, steady, soothing voice while walking toward it (I must have been crazy!). I could see that his shoulder was obviously dislocated, and he soon fell over into a prone position. The animal lifted his head and watched my every move. He was very alert. I quickly walked back to the truck and got several cones to redirect the traffic around the animal. I placed the patrol vehicle ahead of the cones, and turned on all its available flashing lights. I notified the dispatcher that the animal was still very much alive, and I needed assistance immediately. He called Animal Control.
I covered up the lion with a wool army blanket, and checked him over a little more closely. His eyes were responsive to light, and he was continuously alert to all that was going on around him. He allowed me to touch his head and paws. I stroked him to keep him calm. I picked up his paw to inspect a bloody claw, and the cat moved his snout down to sniff my hand. He gave the back of my hand a quick lick. I compared my hand size to the size of his paw, and my hand was grossly outsized. I lifted his cheek flap, and could see that he had bitten his tongue nearly in two, which was the source of all of the blood. I continued to sit with him and talk to him waiting for help to arrive.
After about thirty minutes, a Highway Patrolman stopped. He parked behind my vehicle and walked over not knowing what to expect. He saw me on the ground with the Mountain Lion, and reached for his sidearm.
“No!” I shouted. “Don’t shoot! He’s injured!” The cat was nervously raising his head and looking around. He tried to get up, but I was able to calm him down. The officer ran back to his car to radio for the Animal Control officers again. The CHP officer remained at a distance, with a shotgun in hand until the Animal Control people arrived, about a 45-minute wait.
Once they had arrived, the two officers, both young girls in their early twenties took over. Immediately they said that he had to be “put down” due to massive head injuries and trauma.
“What ‘massive head injuries’?” I asked. “He’s as alert as you and I!” I said.
The two girls pointed out that he was bleeding from his mouth, which was a sign of internal trauma.
I walked over to the cat and stooped down. I petted his head and lifted his cheek flap.
“Does this look like internal trauma?” I said.
“The mere fact that you are able to do that is a sign that this animal has head trauma.” One girl said.
“Okay, then. You do it!” I retorted. The girl walked over to the lion. Before she got within three feet of it, he scrambled to his feet and let out a growl that could melt your spine. The two girls screamed and ran to their truck. The cat lay back down, and I covered him back up with the blanket. Up in the dark hills, I could hear the whining of its mate, and could see its eyes far off in the brush with the spotlight.
I approached the girls and explained to them that the animal can sense their intentions, and will react accordingly. I, on the other hand, am doing my level best to help this creature and he senses that as well. They called for their supervisor.
After about another 30 minutes, a stocky bald-headed man in his mid fifties arrived. He immediately evaluated the situation the same as the girls did, and sentenced the large cat to death. He walked to his truck, and retrieved a shotgun. He inserted a twelve-gauge slug into the chamber and ordered us all to stand back.
“No!” I said. I stood in front of the cat. “He can be saved. He just has a severed tongue and a dislocated shoulder!”
“He needs to be put down!” The supervisor said. “If I have to, I’ll have this CHP officer arrest you for interfering in my official duties.”
I looked at the “chippie”. “Can he do that?” I asked. He nodded yes.
I stood back with the Highway Patrolman as the supervisor pumped the slug into the mountain lion’s head. A shrieking howl came from the darkened brush on the hillside, and all who were present stood in shocked silence. The officers cleaned up the remains and left the scene. Solemnly, I walked over and picked up my cones, and threw them in the truck. Before I got into the vehicle, I walked to the edge of the brush. I spotlighted the lion in the darkness.
“I’m sorry.” I said to her quietly. She looked at me for a moment before she turned and walked away into the brush. We were only about 50 feet apart.
The injured animal was a juvenile weighing about 120 pounds. In my best guess as a past zoology major, I would venture to say that the lion on the hillside was his mother. I believe that she knew that I had good intentions, but if one of the others had been the last to leave, the results would have been tragic. She was an enourmous cat, and had every opportunity to take me down, but she chose not to, and I had trust in her.
I had joked with others in the past that when the young lion licked my hand, that he was perhaps "tasting me" for future reference, but I choose to believe that he was communicating his trust to me. He had every opportunity to injure me severely. My conscience bothers me to this day that I let the young lion down.
As it turned out, by the end of my watch at 8:00 am, there were several agencies, vets and private citizens that were alerted of the incident and wanted to know the outcome. These people were willing to rehabilitate the lion, and were lighting up the switchboard wanting to know how they could help.
It was just too late.
©1999/2012 By Del Banks