A young mountain lion spent Tuesday morning wandering around downtown San Francisco and looking none too happy about it.
The puma was spotted on Russian Hill shortly after midnight and, some hours later, was seen near the Embarcadero and Broadway on the northern waterfront and then again near Salesforce Tower in the South of Market area, according to biologist Zara McDonald of the Bay Area Puma Project.
McDonald studied images that had been provided on a Twitter post, from a TV station and from a photographer and they all showed a frightened animal that had perhaps left its mother’s side in northern San Mateo County a little too early.
“It looked about 15 months old,” McDonald said. “Healthy and young and trying to get out of town. Obviously confused.”
The first images were provided by Twitter poster Fernando Robles who wrote that he “lost visual contact near the intersection of Greenwich and Jones” streets. His video, shot from his car, showed the animal waiting patiently for Robles to stop before jaywalking across the street.
At around 12:30 am I spotted a mountain lion roaming the streets of Russian Hill. I followed from inside my car and lost visual contact near intersection of Greenwich and Jones. Be safe when walking alone at night or when walking your pets. I reported the sighting to @SFPD pic.twitter.com/xlreghRSaJ
— Fernando Robles (@Ing_Fehr) June 16, 2020
McDonald said the animal was most likely from a litter her Sausalito-based animal welfare group had been tracking in the Sweeney Ridge area between San Bruno and Pacifica. The young cougar had perhaps run off on its own, in pursuit of a deer, or had perhaps been sent off by its mother just a little too soon. It may have headed north into San Francisco rather than encroaching on the established turf of other mountain lions farther south on the Peninsula.
“It doesn’t want to be in San Francisco, that’s for sure,” McDonald said. “I’m pulling for the animal to get out of the damn city.”
The animal is probably living off rats and mice but, McDonald cautioned, it “may get hungry and take a pet.”
McDonald said mountain lions do humans a favor by keeping the ecosystem healthy, a sentiment unlikely to comfort dog and cat owners.
Salesforce Tower is no place a mountain lion wants to be, McDonald said.
“What an alien, dystopian world to find yourself in,” the biologist said. “That animal just wants to be back in its own habitat.”
San Francisco Animal Care and Control spokeswoman Deb Campbell said her department was on alert for the animal which seemed, from the images, to be “really young, dumb and lost.”
If a person meets a mountain lion, she said, the strategy is to back away slowly and not run. If it advances, wave your arms and make yourself big. In the unlikely event it attacks, fight back.
With fewer people out and about during the pandemic, wild animal sightings have become more frequent in urban areas, biologists say. Mountain lion sightings in San Francisco are rare but not unheard of. In 2017, a male mountain lion was spotted in a Diamond Heights backyard, near a playground . A state Fish and Wildlife game warden tranquilized it with a dart, fitted it with a tracking collar, transported it by truck to the Peninsula and released it.
Steve Rubenstein is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org