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Palo Alto Police on Lookout for Mountain Lions

Department sets up digital surveillance a month after animal is shot out of a tree.

June 29, 2004|Karen Alexander | Special to The Times

PALO ALTO — Mountain lions, beware. The Palo Alto Police Department may be watching.

A month after police fatally shot a sleeping mountain lion out of a tree in a residential neighborhood, the department has set up two surveillance cameras in hopes of learning if more of the animals might be living nearby.

Police received about half a dozen reports of other sightings after the shooting May 17, but none turned out to be mountain lions. Some were bobcats and one was determined to be a German shepherd, said Palo Alto Police Capt. Brad Zook.

But with awareness up and some people edgy about the possibility that other lions could be on the prowl, police are hoping to find out whether the normally reclusive animals are living in proximity to city residents.

The digital cameras are connected to infrared motion sensors that snap pictures if an animal passes. Police won't say where the two cameras are because they don't want them to be stolen.

The first camera, Zook said, was recently installed along San Francisquito Creek, which passes through some heavily populated parts of the city on its way to San Francisco Bay. Officials suspect the creek might be a corridor for the mountain lions. The camera so far has captured pictures of dogs and people but no lions, Zook said.

The second camera was installed in Bol Park, where an unverified sighting was recently reported. The park is near a high school and a Veterans Affairs hospital.

"We are working in consultation with the city's naturalist, vector control staff and the California Department of Fish and Game, trying to determine what is going on," Zook said. "Is there this mountain lion freeway going on along the creek," or was the May 17 shooting an isolated incident?

Palo Alto came under heavy criticism from some quarters after the lion was shot last month. In a subsequent report to the City Council, the Police Department said it had determined that tranquilizing the animal would have been dangerous because it can take up to 20 minutes for the drug to take effect, and the lion could have become extremely dangerous in the interim.

The incident happened after two horses were injured by mountain lions April 23 and May 1 near Stanford University, also in Palo Alto.

More recently, a small mountain lion mauled a Santa Monica woman who was hiking Saturday in the Johnsondale Bridge area of the Giant Sequoia National Monument, north of Kernville.

Using cameras to observe mountain lions is not commonplace among municipalities, although the California Department of Fish and Game has used such equipment for research purposes, spokesman Steve Martarano said.

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