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Mountain lion sighted and captured in Newport Beach on Port Cardigan Place

The state fish and wildlife department released the mountain lion Friday.
The state fish and wildlife department released the mountain lion, known as M317, on Friday.
(Courtesy of California Fish and Wildlife)

A mountain lion sighting had a Newport Beach neighborhood on guard Friday evening, though state fish and wildlife officials are happy to report that it’s back to the wilderness for M317 — the same wildcat that’s been spotted in Laguna Beach and Irvine.

Initial reports placed the cat in the Port Streets neighborhood near the 1900 block of Port Cardigan Place.

State fish and wildlife staff capture the mountain lion in Newport Beach.
State fish and wildlife staff capture the mountain lion in Newport Beach on Friday. The wildcat is known as M317 and has been previously spotted in Laguna Beach and Irvine.
(Courtesy of the city of Newport Beach)

City officials said the appearance of the mountain lion and other wildlife in the area could potentially be attributed to the Coastal fire in Laguna Niguel earlier this month, which may have displaced some of the local fauna.

State wildlife officials confirmed at 7:25 p.m. Friday that M317 had been located in a side yard of a home on Port Cardigan, tranquilized and loaded into a truck to be relocated.

California Fish and Wildlife department spokesman Tim Daly said biologists have described the animal as a young, “dispersing” male, which means that he is currently trying to get his bearings on where he can live and hunt. But because of that, there are times where he — and other wildlife — can accidentally end up in town while in search of food.

UC Davis Wildlife Health Center associate veterinarian Winston Vickers said the university has been tracking M317 for at least two months and that his behavior has not been out of the ordinary.

"[Dispersing males are] leaving their mothers, trying to find new territory. It’s not unusual for them to show up in one city or another in Orange County,” said Vickers in a call Tuesday afternoon. “For instance, in the last year we had a young male captured in Mission Viejo, and it was collared and released. It ended up going through some neighborhoods all the way over in Escondido and Corona.

“It behaved much like M317 but never got cornered and recaptured. He went into neighborhoods and came out of neighborhoods and settled in a more normal way like these young males do. They try to find a territory and kind of settle in a more non-urban place.”

Vickers said it was likely M317 was following the natural greenbelts into Newport Beach. He said tracking data showed the mountain lion very nearly made it to Jamboree Road but then appeared to turn around and head toward the habitat he’d originally been in.

Officials say mountain lion attacks are typically rare and that the big cats tend to avoid humans where possible. Residents who encounter the animals should not turn their backs and start running but should avoid approaching the lion and try to appear bigger than the animal and make loud noises.

Mountain lions are classified as a “specially protected species” by the state Fish and Game Commission.

Vickers said it’s possible that south Orange County residents may see M317 again as there’s no way to predict animal behavior, but quipped that he might also stay away given the experiences the cougar had during in his time in the big city.

“That probably wasn’t all that pleasant for him,” Vickers said, chuckling.

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