Updated: Schools on alert after police drive away mountain lion

Adult male mountain lions, shown here in a file photo, are

Schools were on alert Monday after police were forced to use a
gun that shoots pepper bullets to scare away a juvenile mountain
lion that had been wandering the streets for at least four hours,
police said.
Schools were on alert Monday after police were forced to use a gun that shoots pepper bullets to scare away a juvenile mountain lion that had been wandering the streets for at least four hours, police said.

The juvenile animal, which officers estimated at 80 pounds, was not aggressive, police said. Officers launched pepper balls near the animal to usher it toward a field at the western edge of Ronan Avenue, where it was last seen about 3:25 a.m. Monday.

“This mountain lion is not considered a public safety issue,” said Kyle Orr, spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game. “Most likely this is just a mountain lion that is moving through its territory.”

Police first received a report at 11 p.m. Sunday that a “dog-sized” mountain lion was near an apartment complex on the 500 block of Stoney Court.

Officers arrived on the scene a short time later to find that the mountain lion had left the area and headed toward the Sixth Street bridge over U.S. 101.

At about 3 a.m., another caller advised police that a mountain lion was in the area of Mantelli Drive and Wren Avenue. Officers responded within minutes but could not find the cat, police said.

Police then received a call at 3:25 a.m. from a man on the 500 block of Tatum Avenue who said a mountain lion was in front of his home. Police arrived on the scene a short time later and found the juvenile mountain lion near the 600 block of Ronan Avenue.

The pepper ball launcher used by police is similar to a paintball launcher that launches small spheres filled with dried pepper powder.

“Generally speaking, we want to preserve not only human life, but secondly wildlife,” Gilroy Police Sgt. Jim Gillio said.

The response may have been different if school were in session and it was not in the early morning hours, he said.

Velia Codiga, principal of Antonio Del Buono Elementary School, which stands less than a quarter of a mile from where the lion was spotted, said she kept students indoors during recess Monday and notified parents about the incident through the school’s all-call system. However, she said students would be allowed outside during the remainder of the week.

“The good thing is that this didn’t happen while students were on campus,” Codiga said.

Gilroy Unified School District Superintendent Debbie Flores said Christopher High School also notified students about the incident at school and parents via the school’s website. However, students were allowed outside.

Flores said she has received reports of mountain lion sightings around this time of year during all three years she has worked for the district, referencing past sightings near Las Animas Elementary School, many of which turned out to be misguided reports of a large house cat.

All of the descriptions of mountain lion sightings reported to police on Sunday and Monday appear to be related to the same lion, Gillio said. The locations of the sightings are about 2.5 miles apart using city streets, but Gillio said it might be shorter going along a creek bed.

Mountain lion sightings are relatively common, and the territories of an adult male often exceed 100 square miles, Orr said Juvenile mountain lions often leave from their parents to seek their own territory, he said.

Unless a lion appears to be posing a threat to humans or livestock, the Department of Fish and Game typically leaves them alone, Orr said.

Mountain lion attacks on people are rare, with only 14 verified attacks in California since 1890, he said.

“Mountain lions are elusive creatures, and they try to avoid humans,” Orr said.

Last year, six goats in western Gilroy were killed in suspected mountain lion attacks.

Several Gilroy residents said Monday they were unaware of the mountain lion sighting and they had never seen one roaming in the area.

“That’s a first,” Wren Avenue resident Shelly O’Neal said, adding that the only wildlife she ever saw in the area were rats and mice.

Gary Mueller, assistant manager of the Gilroy Park and Garden Apartments at 9520 Wren Ave., said he was surprised a mountain lion would want to come down to the valley.

“I always thought they wanted to stay away from us,” he said.

If a mountain lion appears threatening, call 911, Orr said. If it does not appear threatening, contact the Department of Fish and Game, he said.

“Just seeing a mountain lion does not constitute a threat,” Orr said.

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