Two wallaroos and a red kangaroo were found dead at the San Francisco Zoo last week, and findings suggest a local wild carnivore is responsible, the zoo confirmed in a statement Friday.
In a rare event, a lost mountain lion cub was spotted wandering the streets of S.F. multiple times at night last week and was captured by Animal Care & Control on Thursday (read more on SFGATE). The zoo is investigating whether the young cat may have been the perpetrator and entered the Australian Walkabout exhibit.
Zara McDonald, a biologist with the Bay Area Puma Project, said if the zoo finds that the mountain lion killed the marsupials, it will help explain how the animal entered the city.
Experts hypothesized the city’s recent puma visitor came from San Mateo County, as the wildlands around Crystal Springs Reservoir and Sweeney Ridge are home to several mountain lions. A visit to the zoo would help confirm the animal’s route. “In a way it’s part of the story,” McDonald said.
The mountain lion cub is currently under examination at the Oakland Zoo and will be released in the wild.
Experts identified the 50-pound animal as a male of about 14 to 15 months old, an age when cubs are usually still under the care of a mother. McDonald said it’s possible that even a mountain lion of this size and age could have killed the marsupials.
She explained that under unusual circumstances mountain lions kill multiple animals without the intention of eating them and is behavior known as “surplus killing.”
“It’s not common, but there have been numerous instances over the years where we’ve had pumas go into enclosures with animals and kill tons of them, and maybe eat one,” McDonald said.
McDonald recalled an incident in the East Bay several years ago, when a cougar jumped into an enclosure holding goats and sheep.
“The puma figured out a way into the top and then got stuck inside. He killed a bunch of them and only ate one,” she said. “Eventually the puma got out.”
In rare instances, pumas in search of new habitat accidentally wander into San Francisco. Over the years, there have been occasional sightings, usually around Lake Merced, but typically the animals quickly realize they don’t want to be in the city and head back south.
McDonald said video footage of the mountain lion captured on surveillance cameras reveals this animal was confused and scared, and this behavior is what you would expect in a cub separated from his mother.
“I think once it came into the dense area of the city, the first video footage captured clearly shows this lion was confused,” said McDonald. “You can tell from it’s energy, it seemed uncomfortable. It would dart everywhere and stay low to the ground, which is a behavior that you see in these cats when they’re scared and feel threatened.”
Officers from S.F. Animal Care and Control and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife cornered the disoriented animal at Fourth and Channel streets near Oracle Park early Thursday and used a large net to seize it. The goal was to capture the animal without tranquilizing it.
“We have been monitoring the lion’s movements since Tuesday, and felt that because he or she was young and inexperienced that there was no easy, safe exit route from the city,” Deb Campbell, a spokesperson for SF Animal Care & Control, said. “We were afraid that the lion would be hit by a car, or starve.”
Amy Graff is SFGATE’s News Editor. Email her: firstname.lastname@example.org.