Why the Berkeley mountain lion was not tranquillized

Our story yesterday, about the Gourmet Ghetto mountain lion which was shot and killed at 3.26am on Walnut Street, elicited unprecedented interest from Berkeleyside readers. Many of the commenters on the story wondered, in particular, why the police officers shot the lion, rather than tranquillize it.

According to Fish and Game warden Patrick Foy, there are very few instances where tranquillizers are an option with mountain lions. “When the animals are bounding over fences, as happened in Berkeley, there aren’t many options,” he said. “When you put a dart in the animal, I’ve seen them go a half mile, even a mile or more. They become an even greater threat.”

Foy said that the ideal situation is being able to divert the mountain lion back into the wild. That would apply, for example, if a mountain lion was found near a wilderness area with a clear route back. This would have been impossible in the built-up area of north Berkeley.

Berkeley police don’t carry tranquillizer darts, and they aren’t standard issue for wardens either, Foy said. “We don’t carry tranquillizers drugs in our patrol trucks,” he said. “There are some instances where you have time and you can get the tranquillizers, but that’s not at three in the morning.”

As he told Berkeleyside yesterday, Foy repeated that the Berkeley police officers had little choice but to kill the animal.


Foy raised a further problem even when tranquillizers can be used. When you then take the animal into a wilderness area, the likelihood is that you’re putting her into another lion’s territory. “One of those animals will probably be killed,” he said.

Mountain lion habitats in California.

Foy also confirmed a speculation made by a number of commenters on Berkeleyside. “The best way to find a mountain lion is to find its favorite source of food, which is deer,” he said. The Berkeley hills have a very healthy deer population.

The Department of Fish and Game maintains a website, Keep Me Wild, which has information about mountain lions and other wild fauna in California. The population of mountain lions in Northern California is healthy, according to Foy.

If you encounter a mountain lion, Keep Me Wild advises: “Do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.”