The reports from some rural residents that a mountain lion has been prowling around the area just gained some substantiation with the death of a horse in the Hilmar area.
The suspected mountain lion attack was discovered on Aug. 23 when a 600-pound yearling was found dead in a pasture at a ranch off of Golf Link Road in Hilmar.
“He was killed by a bite to the neck that went all the way through to his spinal cord,” said Jessica Wright, the caretaker at the ranch. “It also had deep scratch marks from claws.”
Wright took a few pictures of the horse’s wounds and a state trapper with the California Department of Fish and Game agreed the attack was likely that of a mountain lion.
The horse was found in a pasture that is next to the Merced River and about 50 yards from any structure, Wright said.
“He was kind of an independent guy and didn’t stay with the herd,” Wright said of the horse.
Wright said state trappers did find and shoot some coyotes in the area but that it was “pretty improbable that coyotes could have taken down the horse and caused those injuries.”
There have been a few suspected mountain lion sightings recently in the outskirts of Turlock, but this is the first suspected attack. Several residents in the Ballico area believed a mountain lion was looking for prey in the area based on some large tracks, but the tracks were later determined to be that of a dog, said Jana Nairn who is involved with the area’s Neighborhood Watch.
“We haven’t found any concrete proof that a mountain lion has been in the area, but people are still concerned,” Nairn said.
At least one mountain lion has made a foray into Turlock before. In 2012 a female mountain lion, weighing an estimated 80 to 100 pounds, made her way to the 5000 block of E. Linwood Avenue, where she broke through the door of a residence and then clawed her way up a large eucalyptus tree on the property.
The mountain lion was shot and killed by Stanislaus County Sheriff’s deputies when it attempted to climb down from the tree. The mountain lion had been deemed a public safety threat.
In 1990, California voters passed Proposition 117 that declared mountain lions a “specially protected species” and made it illegal to hunt them. Mountain lions can only be killed if a special permit is issued to kill a particular mountain lion that is killing livestock or pets; if it is deemed a threat to public safety; or if it is to protect listed bighorn sheep, which are endangered.
The California Department of Fish and Game has a crude estimate that about 4,000 to 6,000 mountain lions are roaming the state. Mountain lions typically are found in areas of higher ground, where deer — their main food source — live in abundant numbers.
Earlier this week a 65-pound mountain lion was killed in the Cupertino area. Authorities believe the mountain lion was the same mountain lion that attacked a 6-year-old boy during a family outing. The boy was walking about 10 feet in front of the rest of the group when a mountain lion pounced on him from a hidden position. The boy was treated at a hospital for puncture wounds.
Wildlife experts used trained dogs to track the mountain lion and found it about 130 yards from the attack site. The mountain lion was treed and according to the California Department of Fish and Game, was “unusually aggressive” and fixated on one of the wildlife experts. The mountain lion was 70 feet up the tree, so tranquilizing it was not an option, because the fall would have killed it anyway.