An alert woman and several surprised children kept close tabs on a mountain lion in the backyard of an Irvine home last week, enabling state wildlife officers to safely capture the cat.
Shortly before 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 11-year-old Michael Deming was putting his bicycle away when his mother, Danielle Deming, noticed some movement and a dark shadow near a fence behind her home on Charleston, a small street off busy Irvine Boulevard.
“Just as Michael closed the gate to come around to the front door I saw a large cat face appear,” Deming recalled. “It was a mountain lion in our backyard watching Michael. I was very concerned because I didn’t expect to see it in a residential neighborhood.”
Deming rushed her son inside the home and went again to look through the dining room window but didn’t see the mountain lion. But as Deming opened the sliding patio door, she heard the cat scaling the fence and landing in a neighbor’s yard.
Deming immediately texted neighbors and phoned the Irvine Animal Control Center.
“It sounded crazy and I didn’t think they would believe me,” she said. “The animal control officer that called me back even said that the last person who reported a mountain lion had actually seen a large mama raccoon with six of her babies hanging onto her.”
Shortly after the phone call the mountain lion hopped back over her fence and into Deming’s yard. This time Deming was prepared and snapped several photos with her cell phone that she sent to the animal control officer.
“It looked very calm, and it wasn’t until later that I took a closer look at the pictures that I could see how big its paws were and that its claws were extended,” Deming said.
Then as Deming, who teaches violin at her home, was continuing to watch the mountain lion, her doorbell rang. A 8-year-old music student and the girl’s 10-year-old brother were standing at her front door. “I rushed them inside,” Deming said. “A second later the doorbell rang again. It still wasn’t animal control. It was another boy from our street. We had quite an audience of excited children watching a mountain lion in our backyard.”
Irvine animal control officers arrived at Deming’s home and began tracking the animal, which had once again jumped into a neighbor’s yard. The officers spotted the cat through some missing slats in a fence and shot it with a tranquilizer dart, Deming said.
Later that day after the 3-year-old, 110 pound male mountain lion regained consciousness, it was released back into its natural habitat, said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The mountain lion was likely pursing food, most likely a deer, when it inadvertently became trapped in Deming’s backyard, Hughan said. “It was in the wrong place and had no route back to its habitat.”
Mountain lions typically hunt alone from dusk to dawn. As many as 10 of them are spotted in Orange County each year, according to Hughan.
Deming described watching the big cat up close as frightening and chilling. “It was a crazy, heart stopping experience,” she said.