Lions At The Golden Gate

Mountain lion snarling
To Native Americans, they were the "Ghosts of the Rockies," but often heard in between the trees and the hills largely left to them.

But as CBS News Correspondent Lee Cowan reports, last month that image was shattered when a California cougar mauled one mountain biker and ate another alive, an encounter some predict may happen more often as the lion's backyard, becomes our own.

"He had a hold of her face,'' said Debbie Nichols, after the recent attack on her friend.

Laura Small was one of the few who escaped.

"She was just limp on the ground and it was holding her by the neck," says Small's mother, Susan Mattern.

Seventeen years later, she's still partially paralyzed and refuses to talk about it.

Bob Turner has watched homes here spring up like mushrooms and roads unfold faster than a map.

"Everywhere you go out here, there's just people everywhere," says Turner, who works with California Department of Fish and Game. "Basically what we're seeing is the lions are actually getting used to the people."

Backyards look like their meadows and picnic areas like their clearings. And concrete rivers wind through their valleys where lions are routinely mowed down.

They have become, quite literally, the lions at the gate, in this case, the Golden Gate. There is at least one reported mountain lion sighting every single week in a park just outside San Francisco, the nation's fifth largest metropolitan area.

Biologist Walter Boyce tracks their wanderings and found big cats are often in our shadow and most of us never know it.

"It's almost like watching somebody, a newspaper boy, delivering papers," says Boyce, who works at the University of California, Davis Wildlife Health Center. "We can see that they more or less move along the streets, occasionally going up driveways."

But even living side-by-side, a bolt of lightening is more likely to kill a person than a mountain lion on the prowl.

Naturalist Joan Embery uses a rescued lion to teach the public not to overreact.

"If we start killing every animal that is a potential threat or a danger to us, we would be the only living things left on Earth," says Embery.

California shot at least 100 lions last year, not for attacking a human, but for going after backyard pets.

"Unless the majority of people are really willing to share the environment, then 20 years, 50 years, there won't be mountain lions here," says Boyce.

Mountain views do come with a price if we keep them to ourselves; some fear the "Ghosts of the Rockies" may soon be just ghosts.