Young mountain lion invades northern California high school

A mountain lion, also known as a cougar, pictured in the western region of the US, on Jan 8, 2004. PHOTO: AFP

LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - A young mountain lion wandered into an empty high school classroom in northern California on Wednesday (June 1) and crouched under a desk, where the cat was safely confined as wildlife officials puzzled over how best to remove the animal, the authorities said.

The juvenile cougar, weighing only about 8kg, walked into the school as custodial staff were opening up the building before classes started, and neither the animal nor any humans were hurt in the incident, according to San Mateo County Sheriff's Office spokesman Javier Acosta.

The unusual invasion occurred shortly before 8.30am local time in the town of Pescadero, a small coastal ranching and farming community near a wildlife refuge about 72km south of San Francisco.

"The mountain lion very casually walked through campus and went into the classroom and hunkered down under a desk," Mr Acosta told Reuters by telephone.

A custodian then closed the door to the room, usually used for English classes, to keep the animal isolated inside.

Although no students had arrived yet, school officials decided to go ahead with classes, with students kept away from the puma-occupied room while state game personnel decided how to proceed, Mr Acosta said.

"They have been on property since about 9.30am, formulating a plan to safely and humanely remove the mountain lion from the classroom and return it to its natural habitat," Mr Acosta said.

Closer preliminary observation showed that the cougar appeared to be somewhat emaciated, leading biologists on the scene to call for a veterinarian to examine the animal, said Mr Ken Paglia, spokesman for the California Fish and Wildlife Department.

If the puma, believed to be six months to a year old but of unknown gender, was found to be malnourished or otherwise unhealthy, it might be taken in for treatment before being released to the wild, Mr Paglia said.

Mountain lion sightings are not uncommon in San Mateo County, often involving young males that apparently wander into populated areas while seeking to stake out their own territories, according to Mr Paglia.

In any case, Wednesday's incident is likely to mark a memorable highlight for Pescadero High students in their last week of classes for the academic year.

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