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Aliso Viejo School Is Bobcat Country

A parent raises the alarm over the two small felines in a tree near the campus. Officials say there was no danger to the students.

May 22, 2004|Regine Labossiere | Times Staff Writer

An Aliso Viejo elementary school was put on alert Friday when two bobcats took a likely feud over territory into a tree behind the campus, officials said.

A parent dropping off her child at Foxborough Elementary School called the Orange County Sheriff's Department at 7:10 a.m. to say she had seen two bobcats in a tree, authorities said.

The animals, which weigh 15 to 20 pounds -- a little larger than the average housecat -- are not a threat to humans and no one was in danger, officials said.

The bobcats, one near the treetop and the other several feet below, were in a tree close to Aliso Creek in Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, officials said. The Foxborough campus, which has about 490 students in preschool through fifth grade, is between a residential neighborhood and the park. A 10-foot chain-link fence separates the school, made up of about 30 portable buildings, from the park.

Sgt. Mike Colver said that the bobcat nearest the ground left the tree soon after 11 a.m. The second one started to climb down but was apparently spooked back to the top of the tree, he said.

"It looks like one bobcat is trying to push [the other] one out of its territory," said Rob Rojas of the California Department of Fish and Game. He said agency officials would let the cat come down on its own.

Bobcats are territorial animals that like seclusion and tend to remain in remote areas. They are nocturnal and feed on rabbits, rodents and other small animals.

The schoolchildren were more interested than scared to have the animals about 300 feet from their campus and visible from the school parking lot. A few parents and students tried to sneak peeks of the brown, tufted-eared animal that had remained wedged between branches and hiding under a cluster of leaves.

"They're excited to see a wild animal close to them," said Connie Chang, mother of a preschooler.

But parents did express concern.

"My kids walk to school ... and I'm afraid for their safety," said Mercedes De La Riva, who has three children in the school. "[The bobcats are] wild animals."

Friday's bobcats may have been the second and third wild feline sightings in a week for the school. Rojas said there was an unconfirmed sighting of a mountain lion in the same area on May 14. Fish and Game officials didn't find the animal or its tracks.

The school changed to a rainy-day schedule: Students spent recess and lunchtime indoors, and they weren't allowed on the bike path in the park.

There were a few adults who didn't mind the bobcats and rode bikes or roller-bladed past their tree.

Rojas said the wooded area -- complete with water and the small wildlife that bobcats eat -- is the perfect habitat for them. Bobcats have been seen there before and will continue to be seen.

"The creek beds are animal superhighways," Rojas said. "If they have food, shelter and water, that's what they'll be attracted to."

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