Mountain lion sightings leave May Valley residents on edge
on September 24, 2023
On a crisp afternoon in early September, Melanie Estrada was walking alone on her usual route in a quiet Richmond suburb, picking up kids from school to bring them to after school care at the May Valley Community Center. Suddenly, she heard a loud crunch.
Across the street, Estrada saw a mountain lion passing through the hillside’s tall brush.
It was brown with dark gray spots on its shoulder, muscular, and 4-to-5 feet long.
“I know we’re not supposed to run, but I was scared,” said Estrada, 23, a recreation leader at May Valley Community Center. “I just feel like in the moment, the common sense was gone. It was more about saving my life.”
It was the second time in less than a week that people in May Valley reported seeing a mountain lion. The first report, according to the Richmond Standard, occurred a few days earlier at La Moine Park, across the street from the community center. Since then, two yellow warning signs have been posted at the park.
The May Valley Community Center is taking extra precautions in light of the recent sightings, said Troy Porter, recreation supervisor.
Community center staff have been driving students from Valley View Elementary to the center.
“We’re just doing activities inside the community center, and then in the backyard where it’s fenced off from the rest of the area,” Porter said. “Even though it’s probably less than two blocks, we feel safer driving the kids to the center.”
The U.S. Forest Service advises that if you come upon a mountain lion, remain calm and don’t run, but alter your route away from the animal, so it has room to escape.
“When someone sees a mountain lion, it naturally raises a lot of emotions,” said Ken Paglia, California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesperson. “What our biologists would say is, a sighting doesn’t in and of itself constitute a public safety threat. We want to give the mountain lion an opportunity to go back to its habitat.”
Mountain lion sightings are rare because their numbers are low in the East Bay Hills and their population is declining, said Zara McDonald, head of research at the Bay Area Puma Project.
“They’ve been persecuted for so long, so they’ve learned to avoid us,” McDonald said.
Paglia encourages people to report any mountain lion sightings to the department. If there is a threat to public safety, wildlife officers will respond, he said.
May Valley Community Center staff remain on guard. And signage in the area cautions that mountain lions have been sighted nearby.
“I’m waiting for the professionals to tell us that it’s OK,” said Kimberly Hill, the center’s recreation specialist.
Fish and Wildlife advises hikers to always stay alert on trails, make sure pets are secure and not leave children unattended or allow them to wander ahead.
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