The Penngrove family reeling after mountain lions kill more than 40 chickens


Last weekend, Penngrove resident Pamela Ajello watched her two young daughters stand over the buried remains of some of the chickens left behind.

Nearly two dozen were killed in the middle of the night last Friday by mountain lions – a mother teaching her cubs to hunt, according to California fish and wildlife biologists.

The girls, aged 5 and 7, recited a prayer they learned in kindergarten, one used “when we say goodbye to our friends,” Ajello said, adding that the whole thing , involving five confirmed lion visits, culminating in the Friday night massacre, had been heartbreaking for the girls.

“It’s really sad for them, but they also got a great education living in a wild place like this,” Ajello said.

Ajello, her husband, Nateon Ajello, and the daughters moved to Sonoma County in 2018. But they started raising chickens before the move to Alameda County.

Now they rent 20 acres in Penngrove, a rural and wild hamlet north of Petaluma that’s home to deer, turkeys and other wild creatures.

The family had previously lost a chicken to a bobcat attack and had become familiar with the signs of other lurking predators.

“When the young deer and other animals don’t show up, you know there is something around,” Ajello said. “The bobcat… they seem more strategic. It seemed more comfortable to us. We didn’t like it catching our chicken in the bush.

But the mountain lion attack, Ajello said, was different, leaving up to 30 chickens dead or missing in multiple encounters last week.

“It was a lot more to take,” Ajello said. “It doesn’t seem fair that they engaged in such a killing spree.”

They had already faced herd losses that week, but Ajello said they weren’t sure of the culprit until Friday night. She said she couldn’t sleep, in part because of the effects of losing more than 17 birds the night before.

Then, shortly after 2 a.m. on Saturday, the family heard noise.

“We walked out with lights and saw eight eyes in the chicken coop,” Ajello said last weekend in a post on social media app NextDoor. “They were tall, hopping / hopping and generally going crazy.”

The lions were trapped and after some thought the family, with the help of a neighbor and a few pots and pans, decided to help them escape and return to nature.

California Fish and Wildlife spokesman Ken Paglia said scientists believed the attack involved a mother and up to three cubs, and was likely teaching these cubs to hunt.

“I wouldn’t say it’s incredibly common,” Paglia said. “But in places like Sonoma County, where it’s adjacent to rural land, if they see an opportunity, they’re going to take it.”

The days that followed, including a near-viral social media post that ignited existing tensions in the agriculture-predation debate, were a blur for Ajello, who said he spent much of his time. time trying to soak up the events, and could have been done to prevent the tragic outcome.

Paglia said electric fencing and obstructing the sight of potential predators are two important tools for farmers. He said the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife was investigating encounters with mountain lions, actively tracking down cases, and he encouraged residents to use the Wildlife incident report online application to report their own experiences.

The Ajello family left three chickens as a result of the attacks, and they don’t know what the next step is for them. She said she does not take her responsibility as a farmer lightly, and added that vigilance is important for any animal owner. She said she hopes others can learn from her experience.

“In a way, that’s what I wanted to do with this experience, is to make sense of it,” she said. “So that I can try to think of the good things that can come out of it. Having this personal experience is very revealing, finding our place in the world.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to clarify the number of chickens killed, missing and buried.

Tyler Silvy is editor-in-chief of the Petaluma Argus-Courier. Contact him at [email protected], 707-776-8458, or @tylersilvy on Twitter.


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