A mountain lion killed a pony earlier this week in the wooded community of Auburn Lake Trails near Cool.
The death of the pony is in the same general area where a jogger was killed 22 years ago by a mountain lion. However, state officials said that attacks on humans are abnormal behavior and rare.
A state wildlife biologist was contacted Tuesday by El Dorado County officials about the attack of the mountain lion on the pony.
“She was able to view the deceased pony, and it does appear that the wounds on the pony are consistent with a mountain lion attack,” said Kyle Orr, information officer with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
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Orr said the department has issued a depredation permit to the owner to allow a trapper to track and kill the mountain lion if the big cat can be found.
“Mountain lions do attack livestock,” Orr said. “It is statistically rare for a mountain lion to attack a horse, but it does occur on occasion, and it is usually a smaller horse.”
Mike Mendez, supervisor for Auburn Lake Trails, a rural residential development with homes on large parcels, said the pony is believed to have been killed between 2 and 3 a.m. Tuesday. He said the approximately 400-pound pony was in a paddock on private property with two full-size horses on either side. Neither of the other horses was injured.
It appeared that the lion had fed on the pony in the paddock, Mendez said. The owner agreed to leave the carcass at the location in the hope the mountain lion would return the next night and the tracker could spot it. That plan was foiled when a bear showed up to take the carcass. Had the tracker let his dogs loose, Mendez said, they would have tracked the bear.
Bear sightings in the Auburn Lake Trails area have increased significantly in recent months, Mendez said, with 36 reported in May, 29 in June and 12 in July. He suspects the animals have been displaced by fires in the region. Unlike mountain lions, he said, bears can be chased away.
Due to the bear’s interference Wednesday night, there now is no way to identify the mountain lion, Mendez said, noting that there are many in the area.
“So the lion got away with it,” he said of the pony’s death.
As for concern that the mountain lion could be a threat to people, Orr said that attacking livestock is within normal behavior for the predator. However, he said, attacking a human is abnormal behavior – and extremely rare.
He recommended that residents in Cool, which is 35 miles northeast of Sacramento, redouble efforts to make sure livestock is penned and secure. In general, he said, the primary prey of mountain lions are deer.
Orr said there was some evidence that the lion started to drag the pony away. It is normal behavior for mountain lions to drag a kill away, cover the carcass with leaves and brush and then come back later to feed.
The behavior is called “caching,” and it may be that the lion that killed the pony was frightened before it could make away with the dead animal.
Barbara Schoener, 40, was attacked and killed by a mountain lion as she ran alone north along a path at Auburn Lake Trails on April 23, 1994. Schoener was the first person killed by a mountain lion in the state since 1909, when a mother and child survived a mauling but died of rabies.
A mountain lion suspected of fatally mauling the Placerville long-distance runner was shot to death after a weeklong search.