Mystery Feline Prowls Hills of Simi

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The animal believed to be a lion may weigh as much as 600 pounds, too big to be a mountain cat. Search centers in area near Reagan library.

Source of this article – Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2005.

By GREGORY W. GRIGGS, Times Staff Writer

Sheriff’s deputies have been going door to door in eastern Venture County, trying to drive home one point.

The feline paw prints found earlier this week near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library don’t belong to an ordinary cat. Not even an ordinary mountain lion. They may belong to a lion 400 to 600 pounds strong and more than four times the heft of its cousin species that roams local mountains.

Residents in an unincorporated county area between Moorpark and Simi Valley were warned to keep children and pets indoors, and guard their livestock.

Three state Department of Fish and Game officers and a professional tracker from the California Department of Agriculture on Friday found large paw prints that appeared to be three to four days old, said Mike Wintemute, a Fish and Game spokesman.

An employee at Day Creek Ranch west of the Reagan library on Tuesday reported seeing the hindquarters of a large cat as it darted into bushes.

An inspection of the site the next day uncovered about 100 paw impressions, each about 6 inches wide at the pad, indicating an animal much larger than a mountain lion, which averages closer to 100 pounds, Wintemute said.

The agency has put up three traps, using chickens as bait, to capture the animal. Wintemute said the 10-foot cages, with doors that automatically shut when the bait is disturbed, are the same as those used to capture bears.

The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department has offered helicopters equipped with heat-sensing nighttime cameras if needed, according to Sheriff’s Capt. Richard Diaz, who serves as police chief tor Moorpark.

No additional sightings of the animal were reported by Friday evening, Diaz said.

Kathy Jenks, director of Ventura County Department of Animal Regulation, suspects that the mystery cat may be linked to the discovery earlier in the month of nearly two dozen exotic cats ā€” including African lions, tigers and Siberian lynx ā€” on a farm in the Tierra Rejada Valley.

State Fish and Game officers instructed the animals’ owners to relocate them by Feb. 12. The owners lacked proper cages and permits for the location near Moorpark.

Wintemute said the agency had no information to suggest any of those animals, which were taken to other facilities, were missing.

Jenks recommended that ranchers shelter and secure larger animals and livestock, and note any changes in their demeanor.

Sightings can be reported to sheriff’s dispatch at (805) 654-2311, Fish and Game at (951) 782-4353 or county animal regulation at (805) 388-4341.

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