Mountain lion captured in Southern California backyard

A mountain lion surprised residents by wandering into a highly populated neighborhood in unincorporated Santa Ana early Saturday morning, Dec. 26, and was captured in the backyard of a home after a hunt of several hours.
Filmed by home security cameras crossing front lawns before dawn, the cougar was seen at one point hopping fences in an area south of Fairhaven Avenue and east of the 55 Freeway.
After it was tranquilized and caught, the animal was relocated to the Cleveland National Forest, said Joe Harkey, an Orange County Sheriff’s dispatch supervisor.
The area where the big cat was spotted Saturday included North Tustin, a community east of Santa Ana bordered by the 55 Freeway and 261 Toll Road where the 2010 U.S. Census counted almost 25,000 residents.
Someone posted a Ring doorbell video of the cougar walking past some cars in a driveway and through a front yard early Saturday.
The person wrote: “Mountain lion in my front yard at 6:14a!  We don’t live near a park or wilderness area.”
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Jeff Bryant, a resident of Marshall Lane, was out looking for his family’s missing black cat, 10-year-old Jack, late Saturday morning.
Jack, who had been fattened up recently after receiving treatment for diabetes, usually greets the family in the morning to be fed. But he was a no-show Saturday, and the family, including Bryant’s wife and daughter, feared the worst.
“They haven’t stopped crying since this morning,” he said.
Bryant, who has lived in the neighborhood for 15 years, said he has seen “skinny coyotes” but never a mountain lion there. Their usual habitat in Santiago Canyon is 5-6 miles to the east, Bryant estimated.
“I bet the fires drove him down. If they don’t have food, they’ll come down looking for sure,” he said. Bryant added that the cat appeared well-fed.
However, mountain lions have shown up in populated areas, including downtown San Francisco, without any consistent explanation such as the lack of a food source, said Patrick Foy, a captain with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement division.
After daybreak, a helicopter circling overhead warned residents to stay in their homes as officers from Fish and Wildlife prepared tranquilizer darts. Other officers, from the Sheriff’s Department, Tustin Police Department and OC Animal Care, had their guns drawn.
Capturing the mountain lion was a challenge logistically because the tranquilizing solution had to be prepared, residents and their pets needed to be sheltered and officers had to wait for the lion to be still before it could be shot with the dart, among other reasons, Foy said.
Eventually, the cougar was cornered in the backyard of a home on Calvo Drive. Foy did not have details such as the animal’s age, gender or weight. It did not have a tracking collar.
The animal was released to the Cleveland National Forest because that was the closest suitable habitat as determined by wildlife biologists, Foy said.
In Orange County, Mountain lions are also known to live in the Santa Ana Mountains, Limestone Canyon and Irvine and Santiago Oaks regional parks.
Anyone who encounters a cougar in a residential neighborhood should call 911, Foy said. More information on handling encounters with wildlife can be found at keepmewild.org.
Staff photographer Mark Rightmire contributed to this report.
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