News


Mountain lion and kitten sighting prompts daylong search

Palo Alto police, rangers find no sign of lion; prepare to remain 'vigilant' late Thursday

Police were keeping a watchful eye Thursday on the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, where an adult mountain lion and its cub were reportedly seen in a large tree early this morning.

The sighting was reported to police around 6:20 a.m. in the 1700 block of Webster Street, police said.

Police officers and rangers from Palo Alto Opens Space patrolled the neighborhood near the sighting but as of 4 p.m. had seen no signs of the mountain lion. Officers also had a "heavy presence" during the afternoon school commute to both ensure students' safety and to "hopefully provide a peace of mind to our residents," police said in a statement.

A resident who lives nearby spotted the animals in a large redwood tree and called 911, police Capt. Zach Perron said. The resident is a credible source and has experience with mountain lions.

"Often people both here and in other cities believe they have seen a mountain lion and it's either a really large tabby cat or a golden retriever or something like that, so we have no doubts as to the veracity of this claim based on the experience of the reporting party," Perron said.

There are no photos of the animals and no other reported sightings, he said.

Police are maintaining a patrol in the area and are doing their best to see if there are additional reports, he said. The department is keeping California Fish and Wildlife Department officials informed, he said. The Police Department does have a tranquilizer gun if it is necessary to use it, he added.

"An adult mountain lion, this far into the community, inherently by its very presence is a danger to public safety, so we're prepared to do whatever we need to do. Hopefully, we're going to be able to tranquilize this animal if we are able to see it again, which remains to be seen. Our goal is to protect public safety, and, if we can, to protect the cats' lives, too," he said.

"What makes this case unique, to my knowledge, is this is the only case in the area where there was a kitten that was spotted too in a suburb and in a neighborhood, blocks from schools, for example. Parents are always going to be protective of their children, regardless of the species, so that's another concern," Perron said. According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, the terminology for a young mountain lion can be kittens or cubs -- either term is correct.

Police, park rangers and animal control officers are patrolling the area where three schools fall within a half-mile radius: Castilleja School, a private all-girls school; Walter Hays Elementary School; and Jordan Middle School.

In light of the sighting, police advise parents to drive their children to school today as the investigation continues. Perron said the department has reached out to schools in the area and has advised schools nearest to the area that they could choose to limit outdoor activities today. Patrols will continue into the afternoon as school lets out.

Stuart Bernstein, who lives in the 600 block of Lowell Avenue, said he spotted the animals a little after 6 a.m. He went into his yard after he heard much rustling in the large redwood tree behind his home. It was still dark outside as he entered his backyard to investigate the commotion. Bernstein expected to find a raccoon or smaller animal, since wildlife had been eating the fruits and vegetables in his garden, he said. Instead, he was met with a loud, deep growl.

"Then I heard a second animal. It sounded more like a cat, but it was bigger. I thought it was a cub."

Bernstein's wife, who is a veterinarian, confirmed the growl came from a large animal and was likely a mountain lion, he said.

"I could see the smaller of the two go up on the lower branches of the tree. I saw one go down on a branch. It bowed," he said, noting the lion was probably moving around because the branch could not sufficiently support its weight. He figures the animals were scaling the tree to escape his neighbor's dogs, which were barking loudly at the time. He gestured with his hands to indicate the cub was about 3.5 feet long.

Bernstein went into the house to retrieve a flashlight, but it wasn't working. He called police to report the sighting, but the animals were gone when he went outside again, he said.

He was not afraid nor disturbed by the big cats' close presence in the neighborhood, he said.

"I am on the board of the California chapter of the Nature Conservancy, which has experience with mountain lions and at one of our board meetings we discussed, among other things, the plight of mountain lions in urban areas. I've seen maps in Southern California where the mountain lions ranged into people's backyards and garages all the time. They don't really want to attack humans. If they were on the ground and I was between the mother and the cub, I would be concerned," he said.

The large trees are on a flag lot of a property in the 1700 block of Webster Street. The owner of that property, who declined to give her name, said she was not aware of the lions and she has never seen them in her yard or tree in the 26 years she has lived in the home. She did hear her neighbor's dog bark. The yards of several homes back up to the tree.

She first heard about the lions when police called to warn her of their possible presence and that officers might come to her yard to search for the animals.

"There was a policeman with a rifle in my yard," she said, and animal services officers were patrolling the neighborhood.

George, an Old Palo Alto resident who declined to give his name, said he learned of the lions after receiving a robocall alert from the Police Department. He lives about three blocks from where the lions were spotted and has extensive experience with them as a researcher. He studied mountain lions for about 10 years in Idaho while working with the nonprofit Earthwatch where he sometimes radio-collared lions and tracked them.

"They purr very loud. Their eye color is incredible. You definitely know they are a predator when they look at you. I tracked one with a radio collar, and they would go amazing distances over really rough terrain," he said.

"People panic but there is nothing much to worry about. They are elusive. They could be in the lower bushes or in a smaller tree," he said.

George said he has seen the big cats on hikes. Most people will walk by them and never know they are there, he added.

The lions often travel up and down creeks, but they typically travel alone, he said. It is unusual to see a cub with a mother, and he speculated they might have been pushed out of their territory by competition.

"(I) hope they will tranquilize them. You can dart them easily," he said.

Fish and Wildlife department staff typically check the area to make sure there's no public safety threat, department spokesman Peter Tira said.

It's not unusual to see mountain lions in the South Bay and the Bay Area, where the natural habitat is inviting for animals and people alike, Tira said.

Mountain lions and their cubs usually keep their distance from people and have been seen on security cameras traveling through neighborhoods from natural areas, Tira said.

"Animals will always see us before we see them. For the most part, they'll stay hidden long before they get close enough to interact with," he said.

"It's not completely unprecedented. We have mountain lions passing through the middle of the night passing through a populated area," Tira said.

Because mountain lions are typically found in open spaces that have plentiful prey, a sighting in an urban area is highly unusual. Even so, according to the city of Palo Alto, interactions between mountain lions and humans have been on the rise in recent years.

The city attributes the increase to -- among other things -- an increase in mountain lion numbers and expanded range of travel, as well as more people hiking and running in the mountain lions' habitats.

According to the Animal Services website, mountain lions are generally "calm, quiet and elusive," and the potential for getting killed or injured by one is quite low (there is a greater risk of getting struck by lightning than of being attacked by a mountain lion).

Anyone who encounters a mountain lion is encouraged not to run (which may trigger the lion's instinct to chase) and to do anything he or she can to appear larger, whether by waving arms or opening a jacket, while speaking firmly in a loud voice.

Police plan to remain vigilant throughout the late afternoon, evening and overnight and will "respond immediately to any additional sightings that may occur," police said in a statement.

Persons who see the mountain lions are asked to call 911 and stay at a distance from the animals.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Related articles:

Mountain lion shot and killed (May 17, 2004)

Decision to kill lion correct, police say (May 18, 2004)

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Comments

13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2017 at 9:19 am

Thanks to the PD for getting this news out to warn us as quickly as they did.


13 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 31, 2017 at 9:35 am

I remember a few years ago there was another mountain lion sitting in a tree very near this location. PAPD shot and killed it with an assault rifle. Don't know if policies have changed since then.


6 people like this
Posted by Mary Vincent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 31, 2017 at 10:15 am

Should the city activate the emergency phone system to inform all Palo Alto residents? Especially since they really don't where the lion and cub are, at the moment.


2 people like this
Posted by Mary Vincent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 31, 2017 at 10:18 am

Correction - Especially since they really don't know where the lion and cub are, at the moment.


1 person likes this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 31, 2017 at 10:51 am

Online Name is a registered user.

[Post removed.]


16 people like this
Posted by Ellwood
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 31, 2017 at 11:11 am

Go Cougars!

(RIP Cubberley HS)


46 people like this
Posted by vmshadle
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 31, 2017 at 11:23 am

vmshadle is a registered user.

As resident pointed out above, authorities shot and killed the treed mountain lion a few years back. If they haven't left already, I hope the mother and kitten lie low (or high) until nightfall when they can escape unnoticed. We have moved into their home, not the other way around. Like us, they are just trying to make a living, and they certainly don't deserve to get killed for it.


2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 31, 2017 at 11:39 am

[Post removed.]


20 people like this
Posted by Lion
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 31, 2017 at 11:43 am

Lion is a registered user.

If the lion was reported to the police at 6:20 am why did we not get notified through the emergency alert (text and phone) until 8:32 am? School had already started before then, so the kids were already in the streets. Why did it take more than 2 hours to get the word out via our emergency system?


2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 31, 2017 at 11:47 am

[Post removed.]


3 people like this
Posted by Lion
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 31, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Lion is a registered user.

Can readers can post a comment below with what time they got notification from the emergency alert system and what neighborhood they are in so we can understand this better.

Weekly can you ask your contacts with the City why it took so long for alerts to be received and report back on the answer?


21 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 31, 2017 at 12:14 pm

To bring up the mountain lion killing without context lends to people thinking that our safety officers were brutal in their handling of the situation back then. Please recall that there were several teams looking for the mountain lion since the early morning hours that day. The mountain lion was found sleeping in a tree in a neighborhood that was less than a block from the school bicycle route used by 100's of Jordan MS students, around the corner from the library & art center, less than 2 blocks from Rinconada Park, 3 blocks from Walter Hayes. Safety service staff were on the scene waiting for another team to show up (they were enroute) with the only tranquilizer gun in the area. School dismissal for both Jordan and Walter Hayes when the lion woke up from its nap. It was a tough call that no one was comfortable with, but the team risked the chance of the lion going mobile while 100's of students would soon be within 50 yards. The team with the tranquilizer gun was not going to arrive in time for school dismissal and safety services unfortunately had to put the lion down.

I realize that many people are still upset with that decision. But at least some may have a better understanding of what was a sad day.


14 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm

@Crescent Park Dad - was locking down the schools not considered? The kids were safe indoors.


23 people like this
Posted by vmshadle
a resident of Meadow Park
on Aug 31, 2017 at 12:22 pm

vmshadle is a registered user.

Crescent Park Dad, my issue with what happened was the lack of a non-lethal option. Officials were not prepared to handle this humanely because they lacked timely access to a tranquilizer gun. That is a reason for what happened that day, but it is no excuse. I expect better from our public employees.


8 people like this
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 31, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Given that I live less than a block from the photo/location of the sighting, I would have appreciated a notification! Instead, my daughter rode her bike to Paly and only found out just now.... when I texted her. Husband left for the office -- clueless. I've been working all morning... again, clueless. In fact, I only found out because the SFChronicle called and left a voice message saying they were just checking in on their subscribers.


21 people like this
Posted by Annabelle
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 31, 2017 at 12:39 pm

Hopefully they will not have to kill this one.


5 people like this
Posted by Lion
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 31, 2017 at 12:49 pm

Lion is a registered user.

School are now reporting they are getting all clear message from PAPD


28 people like this
Posted by Beautiful and elusive.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 31, 2017 at 12:59 pm

People, don't panic! Put the pitchforks down. These beautiful creatures have been living among us for years. Just because you haven't noticed them before doesn't been they haven't passed through your backyard on their way to and from the creek regularly. They're smart and elusive. The fact that this female has a kitten with her is something to be aware of, but undoubtedly she is more wary of us than we are of her and, unless pursued and confronted, she will shepherd her baby out of the area along the same path she's probably used for years without harming anyone.


21 people like this
Posted by oldie but a goodie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 31, 2017 at 1:13 pm

This is beginning to remind me of the Black Mamba scare in the mid 90's!!


7 people like this
Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 31, 2017 at 1:39 pm

[Post remove.]


Like this comment
Posted by Real
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 31, 2017 at 1:53 pm

Speaking of the 90's a line comes to mind:
"things that make you go hmmm"


6 people like this
Posted by Local parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 31, 2017 at 2:20 pm

I don't meant to provoke an argument (not criticizing or defending!).... I just wanted to encourage people with cell phones to follow the Palo Alto Police Department on Twitter. In today's case, I first saw detailed tweets between 7:30 and 7:50 am (I don't have time stamps) and they have been providing ongoing updates all day. It's a really good overall resource for Palo Altans.


23 people like this
Posted by Don't Shoot!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2017 at 3:02 pm

My great aunt lived in the neighborhood in which a young male mountain lion was sleeping in a tree.

She told us that the officer at the scene kept asking, " can I shoot him now; can I shoot him NOW?" In a very excited, over-eager, trigger happy way.

When she received the go-ahead, she shot at close range. The bullet struck the cat, waking him. He leapt from the tree, ran about four feet, and fell over dead.

Next time, get access to a tranquilizer dart gun!


3 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 31, 2017 at 3:48 pm

We got an automatic police call on our landline about 8:30am and promptly buttoned up the house which had been opened to cool off overnight.

Poor cats in this heat. Probably hunkered down in dense ivy or shrubs under thick tree cover. This is one night people would be nuts to let their dogs out off leash in the backyards for potty breaks after dark. Speaking of dogs, I wonder if any of the local search dogs are trained to track a mountain lion? Maybe that's how the police were able to tell the schools all-clear so fast?


2 people like this
Posted by Twoot
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 31, 2017 at 5:12 pm

So they are tweeting about an emergency between 7:30 and 7:50 but not sending an emergency alert until 8:30. Sounds like the city needs to review its emergency notification protocol.

If you are a public official trying to get the word out about a legit emergency you'd think your first choice would be the system specifically designed and paid for to do just that - interrupt and alert the public with our Emergnecy Alert system. Or better yet if you are going to do both as they eventually did, then do them at the same time.


2 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2017 at 5:51 pm

It is so easy to play arm chair quarterback, isn't it?!?. The last incident occurred in 2004, and the policy by CA Fish & Game as to shoot and not tranquilize. CA Fish & Game, now Fish & Wildlife is THE authority for wildlife in CA, period. CA Fish & Wildlife has refined their policy, and now their first action, when safe to do so, is to tranquilize the animal(s).


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 31, 2017 at 7:11 pm

"...the officer at the scene kept asking, " can I shoot him now; can I shoot him NOW?" In a very excited, over-eager, trigger happy way."

Does anybody know what became of that dead cat? Stuffed and mounted somewhere?


22 people like this
Posted by Go lions!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 31, 2017 at 7:41 pm

I'm rooting for the lions!


11 people like this
Posted by Mimi Wolf
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 31, 2017 at 8:02 pm

I hope this cat found some rats to feed her youngin'. There's plenty o' rats to go around and we keep killing off the predators.


3 people like this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 31, 2017 at 11:10 pm

For those still complaining about the authorities not using a tranquilizer dart all those years ago, you should take some time to read up on the pros and cons of using that method. That's a separate issue from how poorly trained the ACOs were in dealing with a lion, and how lacking in equipment they were. That responsibility was of that police chief's and the head of the shelter.


2 people like this
Posted by C Park
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 1, 2017 at 12:13 am

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 1, 2017 at 5:14 am

Hope the puma raises some hell before escaping like a ninja.

I hope it makes its way to Google's offices...

Palo Alto Problems.


9 people like this
Posted by RedwoodDada
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 1, 2017 at 8:49 am

No one else has seen them? No other circumstance evidence ever presented. Why should we believe this?

"... he spotted the animals a little after 6 a.m. ... It was still dark outside as he entered his backyard..."

"..."Then I heard a second animal. It sounded more like a cat, but it was bigger. I thought it was a cub."

"... The neighbor, said she was not aware of the lions and she has never seen them ... She did hear her neighbor's dog bark. The yards of several homes back up to the tree."

No credible circumstantial evidence. Paw imprint? fallen tree branch? ...? I guess somebody needs to do something.




10 people like this
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 1, 2017 at 10:14 am

Judith Wasserman is a registered user.

I think the lion, the cub and the black mamba are all having tea with the Black Dragon.


Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2017 at 11:01 am

[Post removed.]


4 people like this
Posted by PM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 1, 2017 at 2:33 pm

"make ways and lands for lions to live in" - Namibia saying


5 people like this
Posted by feed'm
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 1, 2017 at 4:02 pm

Lion needs to stop by 25 Churchill


3 people like this
Posted by Jos
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2017 at 2:40 am

Most are talking as if there are Mt.Lions. Despite being credible witnesses, a vet and a member of a wildlife advocacy group, we don't know that their perceptions were correct. They might have made a mistake.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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