Close encounter: Mountain lion sighting in SLO

The shooting death of a mountain lion found perched in a tree in a San Luis Obispo residential area Tuesday night was unavoidable, say officials involved in the incident.

Cyrus Bany, 31, spotted the 2-year-old cat balanced on a limb of a pittosporum tree about 15 feet off the ground while he did some watering in his backyard around 5 p.m.

He noticed a dark spot in the tree out of the corner of his eye and initially thought it was mold. But on closer look, he saw the mountain lion stretched out on a limb, with one leg dangling down.

Bany grabbed his wife, Jessica, who is due in September with their first child, and rushed her inside.

The couple tried calling various agencies, such as state Fish and Game and county Animal Services — hoping to find someone who would be able to remove the mountain lion without killing it.

Unable to reach anyone, they called the Police Department, which immediately dispatched officers to the Jeffrey Street home.

Officers surrounded the yard until Fish and Game and Animal Services arrived. Officials deemed the mountain lion was a serious threat to the public and nearby residents because it was in a heavily populated neighborhood.

At 6:25 p.m., Animal Services employees shot the mountain lion with a tranquilizer dart while it was still in the tree. Approximately four minutes later, it fell from the tree and landed on the ground.

The lion then got up and tried to leave the yard by jumping over the rear fence. Officials felt like that posed a significant risk to nearby residents, so a police officer shot the animal.

However, the lion was still able to jump into the yard of a neighboring home. A police officer shot the lion again, killing it.

Supervising Fish and Game Warden Mark Crossland said the mountain lion had likely been in the tree since nightfall Monday.

Bany’s large dog, Plato, and the family cat spent most of the day in the backyard unharmed.

“The mountain lion climbed into that tree to get away from something or someone,” Crossland said. “It was a defensive move. Although people tend to glamorize these animals, the fact is that they are very deadly and very powerful.”

Crossland said the outcome, given the circumstances, was inevitable.

“None of us wanted to take the lion, but we had to address the issue as it unfolded,” he said. “Why did we not try another tranquilizer dart? Because it happened in milliseconds, and we couldn’t allow a partially drugged animal to go freely through the area with nearby schools and kids playing.”

A wildlife biologist will do a necropsy on the mountain lion this week.

Bany said he plans to make a plaster cast of the footprint the mountain lion left in the dirt below the tree for their baby’s room. He also kept a small tuft of hair collected from the tree for the baby book.

This wasn’t Bany’s first encounter with a mountain lion. Ten years ago, while working in a rural area, he was attacked by one — which left two gashes in his leg and a puncture wound on his ankle.

The encounter didn’t change his respect for mountain lions or lessen his desire to see the one found in his backyard not killed.

“It was the only outcome that could have happened without a bad conscience,” Bany said. “If we chose a different route and just left it until nightfall, anything could have happened to our neighbors.

It was a beautiful cat, and I feel lucky to have had it in my backyard and not somewhere else where someone might have thrown rocks at it or caused a public panic.”

Safety Tips

According to the California Department of Fish and Game, mountain lions are quiet, solitary, elusive and typically avoid people. Attacks on humans are rare. Much of the state is considered mountain lion habitat. Here are tips for staying safe in those areas.

• Do not hike, bike or jog alone. Avoid these activities when mountain lions are most active, which is dawn, dusk and at night.

• If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.

• If attacked, fight back.

• If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.