Monday, September 04, 2006

California suburbanites learning to live with bobcats

Furry feline pays visit to neighborhood

By Leslie Griffy
Mercury News

Last year residents of a South San Jose neighborhood were frightened by coyotes that reportedly ate more than two dozen house cats.

This summer a different furry creature has been spotted by residents of the Villas of Almaden -- a bobcat. Or bobcats.

There have been at least four sightings, but may have been more, said John Lackner, who lives in the upscale townhouse complex located near the Guadalupe Oak Grove Park. And, while Lackner is concerned for his two indoor-outdoor cats, most neighbors seem thrilled with the visits.

It's the latest example of what happens when homes push farther into rural areas that are still wildlife habitat. Earlier this summer a coyote attempted to run off with a Chihuahua in Los Gatos. And last month, a mountain lion was shot after making dinner of several pet goats in rural Morgan Hill.

But folks who live in the Villas are curious about their feline visitors. They have been streaking out with cameras to the areas of the neighborhood where Pancho or Panchita, as one resident named the cat, lives in hopes of snagging a photo of the muscular feline.

"The consensus among residents to whom I have spoken is that the bobcat is welcome to dine on our over-abundant population of ground squirrels," said David James, who encouraged authorities to do something about the coyotes last year.

Residents felt the coyotes, who James said stalked people walking with their children and eyed house cats by peering through windows, were a threat to humans.

The bobcats, on the other hand, treat people, James said, with "disdain that only members of the feline species can command."

Where the long, green grass ends in the gated community at the foot of South San Jose's hills, dry wild grass takes over.

"They live on the cusp of the wilderness," said Janet Alexander, director of operations at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley.

And, she added, dealing with wild animals is part of the deal.

To make the relationship between the wild and the residents more natural, Alexander recommends folks don't feed wild animals like deer. Food attracts other, sometimes unwanted, wildlife and also teaches behaviors -- like not fearing humans -- that could cause animals danger.

Keep domestic cats and small dogs inside, she said, and if the wild animal starts showing unnatural behaviors, like a loss of fear, scare it off by making loud noises.

Lackner, who didn't live in the Villas when the coyotes were around last summer, is still adjusting to the idea that a bobcat might decide to hang out on his porch.

"I am only eight miles from downtown and I am right in the thick of things," he said.

Still, he added, he doesn't want to see the animal killed.

Decisions like that in the Villas, whether to coexist with or confront nature, is one that may become increasingly common, Alexander said.

"We're kind of building further and further out," she said, "and we are encroaching upon their territory."

For more information about wildlife or to find out what to do if you encounter a wild animal, call the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley at (408) 929-9453 or visit

Contact Leslie Griffy at or (408) 920-5945. news/local/15432416.htm

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