California mountain lion shot dead by landowners after preying on sheep sparks fiery debate

A California family's decision to shoot and kill a hungry mountain lion during the animal's attempt to feast on its third sheep over three consecutive nights is being fiercely debated by locals, as some argue killing the big cat wasn't necessary.

Alejandra Calderon, of Napa, estimated the mountain lion was only about 20 feet from their home when her husband — a hunter — delivered the fatal blow on Saturday. The young mountain lion was being tracked by Audubon Canyon Ranch, a non-profit conservation and research group based in Stinson Beach, at the time.

“As a parent, I hope that they understand how scared we were in the moment,” Calderon told The Press Democrat. “It was a scary experience.”

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But Audubon Canyon Ranch, which just started following the mountain lion with a special collar last week, has encouraged landowners to call their Living with Lions research team to capture and remove any wild animals that attack livestock.

"In another win for wildlife, last night a very caring and involved landowner chose to call our Living with Lions team to capture and collar a mountain lion who killed her goat," the organization wrote, in part, on Facebook last week. "This landowner joins two others in the past month who did the right thing when faced with a pet livestock loss: they recognized that killing the lion via a depredation permit would do no good and that by opting to GPS-track these lions, our entire North Bay community will be able to learn so much more about coexisting with wildlife."

Quinton Martins, a big cat expert who runs the Living with Lions program, stressed the importance of educating landowners about the value of mountain lions and encouraging them to keep their properties secure during the cats' prime hunting hours.

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“There isn’t anybody who can give me a single good reason about how the killing of that cat does anything good,” Martins told The Press Democrat.

Mountain lions are classified as a "specially protected species," making hunting the big cats illegal; however, there are strong populations of the big cats in The Golden State, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW). More than half of the state is "mountain lion habitat," the California DFW says.

"Mountain lion studies over the last 30 years have estimated population densities for different habitat types around the state. These density estimates varied from zero to 10 lions per 100 square miles, and were simply expanded to the total amount of each habitat type available," the agency explains on its website.

After an investigation into the incident, State Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Lt. Jim Jones confirmed to The Press Democrat that the family followed proper protocol by contacting the California DFW multiple times regarding the deaths of their sheep and were unaware they needed a special permit to shoot the predator. In the event a big cat is posing a danger to livestock, proper documents are not necessary, Jones said.

“Of course, I totally understand people being upset, whoever was tracking these animals. But that was not our intention to just do it for the heck [of it],” Calderon added. “We would never do anything like that. We did it for safety.”

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Wildlife officials remind those who live in a state where mountain lion populations are found to remain vigilant and keep animals protected.

"Although lion attacks are rare, they are possible, as is an injury from any wild animal," the National Park Service (NPS) warns on its website. "Even so, the potential for being killed or injured by a mountain lion is quite low compared to many other natural hazards."

If you do encounter a mountain lion, the NPS suggests staying calm, standing upright and avoiding confrontation. Never approach or run from a lion, as it can "stimulate a mountain lion's instinct to chase." In the event a mountain lion acts aggressively, the NPS says to "appear intimidating."