A mountain lion found its way into the City of Colusa early on the morning of July 4, damaged a glass door at Riverside Lanes and jumped through a closed window and onto the bed of a woman sleeping at her residence in the Palm Apartments.
The woman woke up and calmly let the mountain lion outside, escaping with only a couple of scratches from the glass from the broken window.
Hard to believe? That’s what the responding wildlife officials initially thought, too.
“I’ve been doing this for 34 years, and it was kind of unbelievable,” USDA Wildlife Specialist Jim Kincade, who responded to the incident along with California Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel, said. “I look at a lot of calls like this, and some of them are kind of like Big Foot stories – sometimes they don’t materialize. Someone finds what they think is a lion track, and it turns out to be from a dog.”
But that wasn’t the case with the mountain lion in Colusa last week.
“No question, 100 percent, this did happen,” Kincade said.
CDFW Lt. Chris Stoots said that when the responding CDFW officer first received the report, they were similarly skeptical.
“(Mountain lions) going into houses is already highly unlikely. Instances of them doing that primarily involve leaving a door open, chasing prey, or something like that. To have a resident with no attractants, and to have the thing force entry, nobody can believe it. It’s so rare, that it’s unbelievable to seasoned wildlife professionals,” Stoots said. “…Our officer received the report, and their first instinct was that it seemed impossible. It was so unlikely it was hard to believe, but when he got there and started to see the physical evidence – the blood on the window frame, the fur, a distinct mountain lion print outside the window – the evidence really spoke for itself.”
According the accounts given by Kincade and Stoots, the mountain lion was roaming the area of Main St. between Fourth St. and Fifth St. in Colusa at around 6 AM on July 4. It was crossing Main St. in a northerly direction when it was almost struck by a passing motorist, after which the mountain lion went crashing into the front glass door at the Riverside Lanes bowling alley.
“It’s kind of unexplained as to why the incident happened the way it did… It could have been a bad glare off of the glass, which may have disoriented the animal,” Stoots said, adding that the cat could have also been reacting to its reflection. “Mirror-type images don’t really occur in the wild, and I would imagine it would be pretty disorienting for wildlife.”
Shortly after bouncing off of the door at the bowling alley, the mountain lion traveled into the common area of the neighboring Palm Apartments and jumped through a closed window, landing on top of a sleeping Nancy Benvenuti, who resides in the small apartment.
“I talked to the lady and she was actually asleep and in bed at the time,” Kincade said. “The lion went through the window and landed on her while she was sleeping. It jumped off of her bed and onto her nightstand, and she got up and huddled into the corner of the room and the lion just sat there staring at her for a while.”
The mountain lion then jumped down and started circling around Benvenuti’s apartment, Kincade said.
At that point, Benvenuti “very calmly opened the door in her kitchen and let the lion out, which then ran up onto the levee and traveled away from town,” Kincade said.
“I think she did everything phenomenal,” Stoots said of Benvenuti’s actions. “She had courage beyond what most people would. I don’t think many people would have the courage to even more or get out of the bed. The way she reacted, it’s very impressive in terms of nerves and courage.”
In a phone interview on Monday, Benvenuti described the entire experience as surreal.
“I was in bed, and my bed is right by the window. I was sleeping, and all of a sudden – of course, I thought I was dreaming – this mountain lion crashed through my bedroom window, and all the glass landed on me,” Benventui said. “It kind of went in circles… I was laying there in shock. I got up somehow – and I felt like it was in slow motion – walked over the broken glass and into the kitchen. I opened the back door (leading to the alley), hid between the stove and the counter, just hoping he would leave. He walked out the door and almost seemed to look back at me, and then he walked out and went towards the river… When I walked back into my bedroom and saw the broken glass, I just stood there in shock thinking, ‘What in the hell just happened?’”
Other than a couple of small scratches from the broken glass, Benvenuti said she was uninjured. She admitted that she was still a little shaken up, having a hard time sleeping and experiencing flashbacks, but was otherwise doing fine.
“Whether you believe in God or not, someone was watching over me. I only had a few scratches from the glass. There were some big pieces of glass that really could have hurt me, let alone the mountain lion,” she said. “There were big scratches in my floor from it’s claws… I don’t know why I acted so calmly, I didn’t believe it was real at the moment. I don’t think I yelled or said anything, and after talking to some people I think it probably keep the animal calm.”
CDFW called in Kincade to track the animal after the incident, who arrived at around 10 AM. Stoots said that the heat and the somewhat urban environment made tracking the animal with scent dogs difficult. Further complicating matters was a large amount of people on the river for the holiday, he said.
“It was a difficult time to do the response in order to actually trap the animal. The best they could do is clear the area, scour the area, and get peace of mind that it was no longer in that area,” Stoots said.
When Kincade determined that there was no longer a potential immediate threat to the public, the search for the mountain lion stopped.
“The interesting thing with this case is that when you consider totality of whole circumstance, was there a risk to anyone along the mountain lion’s route of travel? Perhaps. But it encountered two people. The first was the one in the vehicle, and it showed no interest – it was just trying to get away. With the lady in the apartment, it showed it was disoriented,” Stoots said. “I would still not call it very much of a risk to the public. Nothing that I heard indicated any notion that it was aggressive. It was nothing more than a confused animal out of its element. I don’t think there would be a value to continuing to try and find it, even if we could.”
CDFW officers took fur and blood samples from the scene, and submitted them to their forensics laboratory for analysis on July 5. Stoots said that those results came back the following day, confirming that it was indeed a mountain lion, and was in fact a male. Stoots said that the laboratory was able to get a full DNA profile for the animal. In the event that there is another event with an “offending” mountain lion, CDFW would be able to run a test to see if it is a match, and act accordingly. ■