California, Best of California Bull

I Saw a Lion.

Tigers are roaming the streets of Paris.

Bears are roaming the streets of New York.

Lions are roaming the streets of Los Angeles.

Which of these statements is true?

The first two statements are absurd.

The last one is a fact of life.

Los Angeles is the only major city in the world where wild lions live within the city limits and sometimes descend from their wild habitat to roam the streets of the city.

I am speaking of the species Felis Concolor, the mountain lion, the puma, or the cougar. I have seen this predatory cat while hiking on the Mulholland Trail, which runs along the ridge of the Santa Monica Mountains which separate the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles and Santa Monica.

My wife Robin has also seen a mountain lion, perhaps the same one, while walking in our neighborhood with my mother in the early morning.

She was on Valleyheart Street, which runs next to one of the ribbons of cement that holds and steers the Los Angeles River through the San Fernando Valley. The puma was walking parallel with her on the other side of the street, moving silently through the thick bushes and trees planted on the ridge that slopes down to the river’s edge, following a water source just like a wild cat in Africa.

She and my mother made a hard left and went deeper into the neighborhood.

I would like to emphasize one world -- LION.

When I saw my Felis Concolor, I did not wonder if it was just a big dog with a long tail. When I came around the bend in the trail I saw a light brown cat that was eight feet long, with a tail that was four feet long and as thick as a baseball bat, ending at thick dark brown tip. I immediately thought I was looking at a female African lion with a small head.

I was hiking with a friend and we both froze, and adrenalin hit my bloodstream in a micro-second and I was ready for either fight or flight. I didn’t have to do either, thank God. The cat glanced at us, almost as if it had heard us coming and wanted to see what kind of animals we were. We made eye contact, and then the cat turned and padded off the trail and down the steep embankment with no sound -- absolutely NO sound. As it flicked its tail and disappeared I also noticed that its fur was thicker and more glossy than an African lion’s fur. It happened so fast and with such silence that my friend and I had to ask each other if it had really happened.Of course it had, and it was stunning. A wild lion lives in Los Angeles.

My wife Robin walks in the neighborhood in the morning, and my mother and she were walking the usual route. My mother was in the middle of a long story when Robin glanced to her right and saw the silent cat moving through the trees. It wasn’t stalking them -- it just seemed to be wandering.

Robin wanted to interrupt my mother to show her the puma, but was afraid that if she made a sound the cat would run. Eventually, they turned away from the river, and when Robin glanced back, the cat just seemed to have disappeared.

Los Angeles is a major city with isolated islands of wild habitat within it. The Santa Monica Mountains start near Highway 5, and and the stretch north for forty miles in one long arc. The 101 Freeway and the 405 Freeway then slice that range up.

Beyond the San Fernando Valley is the long arc of the San Gabriel mountains, which also gets sliced up by freeways and roads. There are probably four mountain lions that live within the Santa Monica Mountains, and since they have such a wide range, they have to cross roads under freeways to get to a new habitat.

There is a story in the paper about the lions at least once a year. When there is a drought there is less food for all the animals as you move up the food chain, and the hawks, lions, coyotes and other predators head down into the asphalt and cement of the city to look for food. One came down and was wandering around the streets of Santa Monica, close to a school. He was shot with a tranquilizer and moved, but he may end up coming back. They sometimes attack each other over territory or prey.

They may end up in-breeding, or they will risk death to cross to another island habitat to find a mate. It’s part of the fabric of life here, which I love. I hope they survive. The West is still wild, in tiny pockets. And whenever I think back on my experience, I can’t help thinking -- I didn’t see a big wild cat in the middle of the Los Angeles city limits. I saw a LION.