HALF MOON BAY -- California Department of Fish and Game wardens shot and killed two mountain lion cubs Saturday that were hunkered down in a backyard on the edge of downtown, a department spokeswoman said.

The San Mateo County Sheriff's Office responded to a report about the lions Friday in the 800 block of Correas Avenue and called in the wardens, who tried to shoo the cubs east toward Burleigh Murray Ranch State Park. When the lions came back the next day, said Fish and Game spokeswoman Janice Mackey, the wardens shot them out of concern for public safety.

The lions looked to be perhaps 9 months old and thin for their age, around 25-30 pounds, Mackey said. They were behaving abnormally, had blank stares and appeared to be accustomed to people, she said. They did not run away when wardens drew near.

"Most lions are difficult to track even for research purposes," Mackey said. "When these cats are displaying behavior that you can get near them, that can be an issue."

Trying to tranquilize the animals would have been risky, Mackey said. The wardens would have needed to sedate them using a needle on a "poke stick." If the effort failed, she said, the cats could have escaped and injured someone nearby.

"This was absolutely the last resort for us," Mackey said. "Our wardens spent a good amount of time to give those lions an opportunity to leave and they wouldn't."

The wardens speculated the lions may have been pushed out of the territory of an older lion. The animals had been prowling near downtown Half Moon Bay for some time, Mackey said, possibly feeding on pets in the area.

Tim Dunbar, executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Lion Foundation, criticized the wardens' decision to kill the lions.

"I think Fish and Game was a little too trigger-happy," said Dunbar, adding the lions were likely orphaned siblings. Lions typically remain with their mother, he added, until they are 12 to 18 months of age.

The department has ordered a necropsy on the lions to discern any causes for their unusual behavior.

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.