A series of cat maulings in Palo Alto this summer has raised concerns among some residents and has prompted a warning to keep small pets indoors at night.
Two cats were recently found dead and mauled in neighborhoods west of El Camino Real, according to residents. A young cat was found on the 500 block of Military Way in Barron Park on Aug. 10, and an older cat was discovered at the end of Del Medio Avenue in the Palo Alto Orchards neighborhood last week, according to a Barron Park resident, who sent out an email alert to neighbors.
A coyote is the suspected culprit. Another resident saw one of the animals walking near Deer Creek and Page Mill roads.
Bill Leikam, a Palo Alto-based researcher of the Baylands gray fox, said he has come across coyote scat in the overflow channel behind the City of Palo Alto's maintenance facility.
"It is unusual for them to move down this far," he said. "The coyote came through at least twice back in July, but I've not seen any fresh signs for more than three weeks. When the coyote was in the area, one of the gray foxes set up a series of distress barks especially in the late afternoons/evenings that lasted for nearly two weeks."
The coyotes have been coming into areas where they are rarely seen, perhaps because of the drought, said Cody Macartney, Palo Alto Animal Services' lead animal control officer.
"This has been happening for several years, and we believe the drought may be a possible cause. All the cats mauled are typically left in the same fashion, which leads us to believe it is one type of animal doing it," he said.
It's not unusual for coyotes to follow the creeks and enter suburban neighborhoods, Macartney said. So far this summer, he estimated that about two dozen cats have been killed.
"We do receive several DOA cats a week some of which are mauled. Most of the cases have been coming from the south Los Altos area, closer to the hills," he said. "But this year, and in years past, we have had reports of cat maulings close to El Camino and as far east as the train tracks."
Food and water sources have become more and more scarce because of the drought, so animals travel further in in search of food. A coyote, or another other animal native to the foothills such as a mountain lion, travels along the creek into town to find a meal. Then they will follow the creek back up to the hills usually without being seen by people.
A home-security camera in Los Altos caught a coyote in the act two years ago, Macartney said. No mountain lions have been reported in Palo Alto, "but several weeks ago there was one in San Mateo and another in Mountain View," he said.
Coyotes rarely attack people, but if someone encounters a coyote, he or she should act big and make loud noises to scare it off. Same is true for a mountain lion.
"Never run or turn your back to them," Macartney said.
Macartney said he has a mantra when advising people about precautions related to coyotes and mountain lions: "Owners of small pets -- cats, dogs, rabbits, etc. -- should bring their pets indoors at night."
"Coyotes are nocturnal and hunt at night. I always recommend having indoor cats for a multitude of reasons, but the coyote threat is especially important," he said.