County animal control officers set a large trap Wednesday near William S. Hart Park in Newhall in a renewed effort to capture a nocturnal predator that is believed to have killed 23 farm animals in the past three weeks.
"Hopefully, we'll catch the animal responsible," said Judy Orosco, district supervisor for the county-run Castaic Animal Care and Control Center, which is helping park officials search for the predator.
The most recent attack occurred Sunday, when 13 of 25 ducks donated to the park the previous day were found dead, park Supt. Mike Dortch said. On Dec. 29, he said, 10 animals, including five pygmy goats, were killed by "an animal of unknown origin."
The animals were part of a small zoo of birds and livestock, visited mostly by children, in the 264-acre park.
Reports of Panther
Residents have reported seeing a panther prowling the hills near the park on three recent occasions, Dortch said. One woman from Castaic told him she had seen a black panther jump from a tree near the park's animal enclosure, he said.
But, after ground and air searches of the area, Orosco, sheriff's deputies and state Fish and Game Department officials concluded that the attacker is probably a large, black dog.
Traps set by park workers have come up empty, Dortch said, but they are considerably smaller than the one set Wednesday.
Orosco also said animal control officers, who already are keeping a closer watch on the park, will begin issuing more citations to people who let their dogs run loose.
Sunday's killings also prompted the Docents of Hart Park, a volunteer group, to circulate petitions asking the county to build a safer animal enclosure.
Many Sign Petitions
"We collected more than 500 signatures in just five hours," said Cae Nelson, docent chairman. By the time the petitions are presented to county park officials on Jan. 24, Nelson said, she expects to have at least 1,000 signatures.
Several bird species are kept in five secure cages, she said, but farm animals are housed in one open-air enclosure surrounded by "a three-foot-high fence made of chicken wire."
"They are completely defenseless," she said. "At night, when no one's around, any animal can get in the enclosure and tease, play with or kill the animals, or do whatever to them."
Killings of park farm animals have occurred periodically during the past five years, Nelson said.