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By Jay Thorwaldson

About this blog: I was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly from June 2000 to January 2011, capping a more than 50-year career in journalism and writing since Los Gatos High School, where I was editor of the student newspaper and president of the speech...  (More)

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On hunting imaginary lions

Uploaded: Jul 22, 2008
Somewhere deep inside I've always been a lion hunter.
And the recent episode of the lion hunt in and around Palo Alto's Foothills Park and the Los Trancos Woods residential area evoked deeply buried childhood memories of when my family moved from Fresno to Los Gatos when I was 3 years old.
The three acres my folks purchased at the edge of town fell off in the back into an oak canyon with a small creek in one corner, and it was backed by a 20- or 30-acre wilderness owned by another family.
One day I came trudging into the house for lunch as if I were carrying something heavy over my right shoulder. I walked into the kitchen and in front of my mother (who recounted the story for years) threw the load onto the floor.
"Three lions!" I declared triumphantly -- not having a clear idea of how much real lions weighed at the time. I'm not sure I do even today, never having tried to lift one, alive or dead, African or American.
My older sister Marilyn actually made up a book about the great lion hunter, clipping pictures from magazines to illustrate it -- a precursor to the high-tech books of today they print with your kid's name as the hero.
So I'm familiar with imaginary lions, and to some extent with real ones.
For most of my life I've ridden horses, biked, hiked, jogged or actually lived in mountain-lion territory, and I've always been aware that usually they see (or hear) you long before you know they're anywhere in the neighborhood. The Spanish name for Los Gatos was originally "La Rinconada de Los Gatos," or "The Little Corner of the Cats." It meant the little corner of the big cats.
A friend lives within five miles of where a woman, Barbara Schoener, 40, was killed by a cougar while jogging on the Western States Trail above the American River, in the Auburn Lakes Trails area, on April 23, 1994. A memorial bench along the trail is a reminder of the danger the big cats can present.
But such attacks are really rare, and one 78-year stretch had no reports of any such attacks. Check out the Web site http://tchester.org/sgm/lists/lion_attacks_ca.html for list of cougar attacks dating back to the late 1800s. The official California Department of Fish & Game tally is at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/news/issues/lion/attacks.html.
Country residents usually take the presence of the cats for granted, yet try not to jog at dusk or dawn, when lions typically hunt.
An example of the casual attitude: Several years back, two young girls, 11 and 8, who used a trail around a grassy hill as a shortcut to the school bus, were warned that someone had seen a cougar peering over the grass above the trail.
"Well so much for THAT shortcut!" the older girl said, taking the warning in stride.
So when the report came in of a 50-year-old man knocked from a trail in Foothills Park down an embankment above Los Trancos Creek everyone took it seriously. A federal tracker, several state Fish & Game wardens and lion-sniffing dogs joined local police and park rangers in a serious hunt.
They quickly shut down Foothills Park and the adjacent Pearson-Arastradero Open Space Preserve for several days and blanketed the area searching for sign of a lion.
A "lion profiler" of sorts speculated it might have been a young lion that was a bit clumsy in its attack, hitting the hiker at shoulder-blade level and falling down the steep hillside after him before running off up the creek below.
The story came to mind of the great African hunter who recounted how a large lion attacked him after his gun jammed but jumped over him when he ducked. The hunter came back the next day and found the lion leaping about -- practicing shorter jumps.
But in the Foothills Park lion hunt puzzlement set in. No tracks, no sign, no scent.
A state supervisor F&G warden took the "victim's" shirt to a forensic lab in Sacramento, and nary a hide nor hair was found. And there were no claw or teeth marks, either.
And the lion began to fade like the proverbial Cheshire cat, with not even a smile left behind. Police, who never identified the hiker, talked about citing him for making a false report and billing him for the $10,000 cost of the hunt.
But the hiker -- perhaps alerted by news stories about the potential $10,000 bill -- stuck to his story. What would YOU do, given the alternatives? Police and the district attorney's office decided there wasn't enough evidence to make a provable false-report case, federal, state or local. Officials deemed the attack "unsubstantiated," with a heavy dose of skepticism.
So everyone went home.
My hunch is that Los Trancos Hills neighbors know who the hiker is, and it would be surprising if he didn't get a dose of resentment about giving everyone a scare. But at least some innocent young lion wasn't shot or otherwise killed as the attacker.
The hiker, a Portola Valley resident, initially said he didn't report the incident until the next day because he feared being fined for being inside Palo Alto's Foothills Park, where only Palo Alto residents are supposed to be.
What he didn't know is that park rangers, knowing lions are fiercely territorial, have trained a team of "watch lions" to remind non-residents that they don't belong in the park with a friendly bump on the shoulder blades -- a sure way to put some teeth into the residents-only rule.
But my favorite mountain-lion story was the case of the hungry young lion that apparently wound its way down San Francisquito Creek from the foothills into residential Palo Alto in mid-May 2004 -- even though it had a sad ending for the lion. After prowling around the Newell Road and Walnut Drive area for some days, the lion was run up a large camphor tree by a neighborhood dog. Those hunting it never bothered to look up.
Weekly Senior Staff Writer Don Kazak even interviewed the dog's owner virtually under the tree where the lion was perched about 25 or 30 feet above. Don thought the dog didn't like him and was growling at him, but the dog didn't look up either.
When Don returned to his Jeep across the street to phone in the story, a woman police officer pulled up next to him, took out a rifle and shot the lion out of the tree, where it had been spotted by a TV crew.
Earlier, I called to check on a longtime friend and Newell Road resident, the late Ed Ames, then in his mid-90s but with his kindly humor and wit fully intact. I asked how he was doing with his walker with the lion prowling around the neighborhood.
"Oh, Jay, it wouldn't take a mountain lion to take me out," Ed replied. "Any good-sized house cat could do that."
What is it worth to you?


Posted by An Engineer, a resident of ,
on Jul 22, 2008 at 2:54 pm

Here are some imaginative tips for hunting imagined (one hopes) lions: Web Link Have fun!

Posted by Engineer, a resident of ,
on Jul 22, 2008 at 3:25 pm

An Engineer,

Very interesting theories! And very amusing.

Now I will track to the other (atavistic) end of the spectrum:

I once knew a professional lion (cougar) hunter in California. He eventually gave it up and became a conservationist, trying to protect Felis concolor (he succeeded!). However, before he took the cure, he admitted that the liver of the mountain lion is the best tasting flesh of all the animals that man kills (and he killed and ate many of them). He even had a recipe for it, involvong rainbow trout and wild herbs.

The theoretical question is: Are mountain lions best preserved by prohibiting the hunting of them, or by providing an open market on their livers, sold in very high end restaurants?

Are there mathematical equations that could help us decide the optimal answer?

Hint, this is not an obvious answer, as many may think at first glance.

Posted by An Engineer, a resident of ,
on Jul 22, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Yes, and thanks for asking. Any technique or equation described in the link given above will result in the optimal preservation of the lion targeted using it.

Posted by Engineer, a resident of ,
on Jul 22, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Just to extend the notion, what would a thinking lion think?

Posted by An Engineer, a resident of ,
on Jul 22, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Thinking lions apparently think highly of their livers. Very few lions drink.

Posted by Engineer, a resident of ,
on Jul 22, 2008 at 6:49 pm

Oh, I've known some males who drink and think they are lions. Does this make them thinking lions?

The question remains,

Would high price cougar liver, for sale at the highest price, be good or bad for thinking (or even non-thinking) lions. There must be some specific equation for this, but it is beyond me.

Posted by Walter E. Wallis, a resident of ,
on Jul 22, 2008 at 7:54 pm

And the equator is an imaginary lion running around the earth.
We all know about the snipe hunt, but grunion hunting sounds so much like a snipe hunt that most first timers still expect Allan Funt to show up.

Posted by William Hanley, a resident of ,
on Jul 24, 2008 at 12:16 pm

Being a Berkeley English Literature graduate I learned to love words. Isn't there even something in that old bible that says something like First was the word and the word... something like that - IN THE BIBLE!.

Good writing is an amazing skill - word smithing. I found this blog on the lion mystery one of the most delightful pieces I have ever read.

Posted by Bible Reader, a resident of ,
on Jul 24, 2008 at 4:52 pm

I think this is the passage you mean

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

St. John's Gospel. ch 1. vs 1 - 5

Posted by Jay Thorwaldson, a resident of ,
on Jul 25, 2008 at 11:52 am

Jay Thorwaldson is a registered user.

Ah, well, if we're going to get Biblical let's not forget Daniel in the lions' den, the original "lion whisperer," and the many scores (hundreds?) of lion references in the Bible, such as when the lion will lie down with the lamb. I'm a bit partial to Mark Twain's response to the latter. That works just fine, he said, so long as one has a goodly supply of lambs.

Posted by Sam, a resident of ,
on Jul 25, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Ah yes, Jay...the slaughter of the lambs. However, one good dog of any size, with fight in him, will do just fine, according to Twain.

Posted by An Engineer, a resident of ,
on Jul 25, 2008 at 1:06 pm

And Woody Allen chimes in with: "The lion and the calf shall lie down together, but the calf won?t get much sleep"

Personally, I like Groucho Marx's observation that: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." I'm not sure how this applies to lions, at least not the first part.

Posted by Kent, a resident of ,
on Jul 25, 2008 at 1:48 pm

Why can't we all just get along?

Posted by anti-Narnia, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2008 at 6:19 am

Jay writes: "a woman police officer took out a rifle and shot the lion out of the tree."

I always wondered why nobody ever picked up on the sad irony between the shooting of the lion and the City's motto "Its a matter of Pride."

Posted by Linguist, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2008 at 1:17 pm

Minor correction to Mr. Wallis: the saying goes that the Equator is a Menagerie lion running around the Earth.

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Jul 26, 2008 at 1:28 pm



Posted by Lion Around, a resident of ,
on Jul 27, 2008 at 10:20 am

A little editing was added to this Jay Thorwaldson scoop so Google can alert non-Palo Alto residents worldwide that innovative solutions are being applied to encourage compliance with the Foothills Park non-resident rule:

"What he didn?t know is that Palo Alto Foothills Park rangers, knowing lions are fiercely territorial, have trained a team of ?watch lions? to remind non-residents, with a friendly bump on the shoulder blades, that they don?t belong in the park -- a sure way to put some teeth into the residents-only rule.

The lions, being no dummies, immediately joined Local 715 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Thus, they will not be patrolling every other Friday or on weekends, unless overtime is paid."

Posted by Angela Hey, a resident of ,
on Jul 30, 2008 at 12:49 am

I thought we could have a new Bay Area tourist attraction - lion spotting. In Nepal I rode elephants at sunrise and sunset 3 times to look for an elusive tiger - but we did hear it roar and one of the elephants in our group did see it.

So maybe someone can dream up a lion tracking vacation package!

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Jul 30, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Let's keep this thread, we don't need another.

Posted by Kepp covering up your plagerizing Jay, a resident of ,
on Jul 31, 2008 at 6:24 pm

Jay took my comments about the Lion being a Palo Alto employee hired to keep non-residents out of the park and used them without credit.

When I posted that on this thread (the first comment posted) it was quickly removed. Again.

You really are a disappointment Jay.

Posted by Jen Joo, a resident of ,
on Aug 6, 2008 at 10:52 am

Jay and Jason Green over at the other paper never get these stories right. Too cozy with the people at PA City Hall top be objective.

Posted by a neighbor, a resident of ,
on Aug 9, 2008 at 5:23 pm

In 1994, around the time of the killing of the woman jogger, I myself saw a mountain lion at Foothills Park. I was hiking alone on the trail close to Crazy Horse fire road that goes up the hill towards a large Bay tree.I walked past the lion, who was seated about 10 feet from the trail. I guess it wasn't hungry. I never reported this to the rangers because I was trying to locate my teenage son at the time. It was about the size of a large dog and resembled a lioness from the zoo. I was unafraid because I was not well-informed about the danger that these beasts can pose. No joke, these are awesome animals. If I had reported it to a ranger, which I should have done, I wonder if the authorities, in their wisdom, would have tried to kill the thing. I wouldn't like to think so.

Posted by Jon, a resident of ,
on Aug 17, 2008 at 11:50 pm

Lions and Tigers and ... Bigfoot!

such a fascinating town, I'm going to miss it when I go.

Posted by Blogger, a resident of ,
on Aug 20, 2008 at 12:31 am

It ain't a blog unless you update it, rump aperture!

Posted by Mr. BBQ, a resident of ,
on Sep 3, 2008 at 11:34 am

Can't this Guy at least post something new on a monthly basis? I think he might post something that has some value. Mountain lions sightings are a worthless a post. This posting by Jay has little value. I would rather have a blog about how many people have a Prius and traded their car in for $5,000.00 and believe they were saving money on a $27,000 Prius taking 27 years to break even. Save the environment, empty your wallet! The people in Palo Alto have more money than brains! Stupid is as Stupid does.

Posted by THE RED PRIUS, a resident of ,
on Sep 3, 2008 at 12:08 pm

The Prius cost more than $27,000 the Prius is the most blood stained car of all time.

Prius batteries, contain 32 pounds of nickel each. Also several pounds of cobalt, mined in the 'Democratic' Congo, one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. Add in the other rare-earth metals, most of which come from China The WORLDS most oppressive regime!

Hey, Palo Alto what about it, how green can you be when all I see is the red of oppression around your save the planet ego stance.

Posted by THE RED PRIUS, a resident of ,
on Sep 6, 2008 at 10:08 pm

You know this gas price business is just a cash cow designed to take our money. There is no oil problem. If there really was FORD has an answer the beats the Prius hands down.

The 65 mpg Ford the U.S. Can't Have!
Here: ->Web Link

Posted by Jerko, a resident of ,
on Sep 16, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Time to get a new topic

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Sep 16, 2008 at 6:55 pm

What happened the North/South divide topic?

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Sep 18, 2008 at 4:34 pm


If you don't wish to continue to update your blog, perfectly OK, maybe someone else on the staff would like to. I believe Arden has a blog devoted to tech issues and that may be possible to provide a link to.

Posted by lazlo toth, a resident of ,
on Sep 22, 2008 at 5:46 pm

someone put this man out of his misery!

Posted by lion, a resident of ,
on Sep 22, 2008 at 9:49 pm

it is time for JAY THORWALDSON to be retired

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