In the search for Turlock’s mountain lion, police and wildlife authorities await the cat’s next move.
“We’re waiting for a resident to spot it and call police,” said Lt. Patrick Foy of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
In the meantime, he urged caution but not undue concern, noting that the animal has “shown no aggression toward people or pets that we have documented.”
Schools opened as usual Monday, though some parents said on social media that they were keeping their children home as a precaution.
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“We are taking a business-as-usual approach to school this morning,” Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Sonny Da Marto said in an email. “I realize that the presence of a mountain lion has all of us concerned. However, we need to move forward with getting kids in school.”
Police plan an expanded presence in the area, but mountain lions – solitary creatures by nature – typically don’t go near schools, which tend to be fairly loud.
School officials did caution parents to take care when getting their kids to and from school.
“Until the mountain lion situation is resolved, as a precautionary measure, we encourage parents to transport their students to and from school over the next several days, as well as have them walk in groups to and from the Julien (Elementary), Dutcher Middle School and Turlock High School campuses,” the district said in a post on its Facebook page Monday.
Several police officers reported seeing the creature, estimated as weighing 90 pounds, after initial sightings were reported about 6 p.m. Sunday near Anning Drive and North Johnson Road. Police set up a perimeter as the search for the mountain lion stretched more than four hours.
The perimeter was shut down about 10:40 p.m. About 11:30 p.m., Fish and Wildlife searchers spotted the mountain lion in the area between Palmer and Simon drives, Turlock police Sgt. Stephen Webb said. They weren’t able to catch it.
Foy confirmed the sighting. “A biologist was actually looking at a track when someone said, ‘It’s right there, up in that tree,’ ” he said. “It bounded over a couple of fences and was gone.”
Webb said police also received an unconfirmed report of a sighting at 1:20 a.m. Monday in the area of Colorado and Escondido avenues. That was from a nearby resident who wasn’t sure if what he saw was a cat, Webb said.
A homeowner on California Avenue provided a video believed to show the mountain lion. Foy agreed that the image on the video looks authentic. In it, the cat is moving at a slow trot in an eastward direction.
It’s the first confirmed sighting of a mountain lion, though several people in Stanislaus and Merced counties have reported seeing one in recent weeks. These include sightings along the Tuolumne River in Modesto, near the Merced River in Hilmar and in the east Turlock area.
Even if a mountain lion is in the area, there’s no reason to believe it will harm anyone, officials said. Attacks on humans are extremely rare, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife, though Foy noted they do happen, as occurred recently on a trail near Cupertino.
It’s unusual for such a cat to venture into a town, but this is the third time this year it’s happened. Foy cited earlier instances in Mountain View and Sacramento.
As for what is drawing them, that’s unclear. Foy said some people have speculated it’s because of the drought or recent wildfires, but there’s no indication that’s true. Mountain lions do wander and have a territory of up to 200 miles wide.
So far, the only thing the captured animals have in common is that they are not fully grown and they’re male. The Sacramento lion was 70 pounds. Authorities estimate the cat seen in Turlock is about 90 pounds, but nobody has seen it closely enough to say for sure.
Foy said he is hopeful Turlock’s case has a resolution similar to what happened in Sacramento in June. Residents reported seeing the mountain lion one evening, then the next evening it was spotted in a backyard. Foy was ready with a gun and tranquilizer darts. He responded to the scene and shot the mountain lion, which was then relocated about 25 miles out of town.
“We’ll be ready if someone calls 911,” he said.