UCSB’s Wandering Mountain Lion

Illustration by Drew Buchanan

Teren’e Chambers
Contributing Writer

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, a mountain lion was sighted near Orfalea Family Children’s Center in the afternoon.  

This was just the latest in a slew of mountain lion sightings that took place near UCSB over the past few weeks — sightings likely caused by seasonal factors. In a dramatic turn of events, the latest was reported to be bobcat who has lived in the area with no problems for many years.

The first alert came on Tuesday, Sept. 17, and was issued to UCSB students, staff, and Santa Barbara residents. It reported that a mountain lion was spotted near UCSB’s Campus Point peninsula. The notification urged that, until further notice, people should avoid the area, and emails were sent out explaining proper precautions to avoid and survive mountain lion encounters. 

Police officials searched the area. They notified the California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials and advised people to call 911 if they saw a fugitive feline. A few days later, another alert notification was issued — the mountain lion was seen at Orfalea Family Children’s Center. The saga continued with an additional two mountain lion sightings, which were reported at the Allan Hancock Lompoc campus. 

On the evening of Monday, Oct. 7, a mountain lion was spotted for the fourth time near the UCSB campus on the beach below the cliffs at Campus Point. This was the sighting confirmed to be a bobcat, a much smaller and less dangerous feline.

In an interview with The Bottom Line, UCSB Evolutionary Biology Professor Samuel Sweet agreed that the recent sightings most likely involved a bobcat. 

“There were a couple bobcats on Campus Point … people worried that the two bobcats they saw might be mountain lions,” he said. “A couple of people know what they are doing because they have seen a bobcat.”

Sweet is quite familiar with mountain lion activity. He comes across a number of signs of mountain lion activity in his local fieldwork and he is used to being tracked while he works alone at night. Mountain lions are nocturnal animals. 

Experts say that mountain lions may be looking for food and water. But Sweet asserted that, “by nature now, they are eating raccoons, possums, rabbits, and rats.”

According to an email sent to UCSB staff, faculty, and students, residents should not worry too much about encountering mountain lions. In the case that they do, they are advised to not run away from them. Experts say that it is better to make noise and appear as big as possible. They are, in fact, afraid of humans and even children. Mountain lions have been around the Santa Barbara County for years. They come down from the mountains in Goleta, and this is not an uncommon occurrence. 

“People don’t really understand that mountain lions are around campus all the time,” said Sweet. So long as expert advice is followed, these animals are fairly harmless. They will likely be on their way soon.