Outdoor Life Online Editor

. -The San Francisco Chronicle

When a cougar was treed on May 18 in Palo Alto, Calif., a residential area near Stanford University, a police officer weighed his options before shooting the animal. A nearby school was ready to let its students out and it would have taken the California Department of Fish and Game some time to respond with a tranquilizer gun, so he decided not to take any chances.

Since then some residents have erected a shrine on the spot where the mountain lion was killed, and flowers and photographs have been placed around it. And, as the quote above testifies, not a few residents have accused the police of putting public safety above a cougar’s-maybe they think he should have called the fire department, who, reportedly, know how to deal with treed cats.

In response, Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith told The San Francisco Chronicle that her agency would create a computer database to better track and respond to reports of mountain lion sightings. And Smith hired a retired game warden to help police and animal control agencies when a mountain lion strays into a populated area.

During a meeting at Palo Alto City Hall held to hear public comments on the shooting, several animal-rights activists voiced their disdain. Palo Alto resident Lile Elam, reportedly said, “We take over everyone else’s space and we think that we own the planet. I am so, so sorry that this young animal, this wonderful being, had to lose his life because of us not being aware.”

It isn’t clear whether Elam was aware that the cougar in question was in suburbia.

Just a few days later, on May 26, another cougar was killed, this one by a warden in Copco Lake with the California Department of Fish and Game. A local resident spotted the cougar on the 23rd and again on the 24th. The resident reportedly shot at the mountain lion on each occasion but missed both times. Maggie Bauder, a Copco resident, is sorry that the resident is such a poor shot. She said that the mountain lion returned to her house every morning for four days before it killed her cat. “I looked out the sliding glass door and there was this huge lion with my little cat in its mouth,” said Bauder.

Game officials trapped and killed the cougar because it was a “very bold lion,” said John Dawson, the warden investigating the incident. In other words, its next kill might have been human.

As of this writing, there has yet to be a shrine erected on the spot where this cougar was dispatched. Maybe local environmentalists will put one where the pet cat was killed instead, though we doubt it.

It’s worth noting that an average of about 100 cougars are killed per year in California in defense of life and limb (and to protect our favorite household critters). That is more than was killed per year by hunters in the state before the season was closed in 1972. The cougar population in California has been compared to an unhunted deer herd that grows out of control. It’s a good comparison, because deer lose fear of people too. They just don’t eat anybody.