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Mountain lion wanders into town

Modified: Friday, May 17th, 2013


A full grown mountain lion tries to leap out of a concrete aqueduct on the Branciforte Creek early Thursday morning near downtown Santa Cruz. (Photos by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian)


SANTA CRUZ — An adult mountain lion made a rare appearance near downtown Santa Cruz Thursday morning, wandering through a motel parking lot, a business complex and jumping over fences in a residential area.

Emergency dispatchers initially received a call of the large cat roaming through the Ramada Inn parking area and around the pool at 7:30 a.m. on Water Street near Ocean Street, one of the busiest intersections in the city. At one point a man visiting from Germany came down a flight of stairs and came face to face the lion before he realized what was happening and recoiled to safety. Once Santa Cruz Police got behind the cat in their patrol cars it continued its bizarre odyssey, padding through a sprawling medical and business plaza known as 550 Water Street.

From there the mountain lion, who appeared healthy with a golden brown coat, sauntered down Dakota Street and onto May Avenue, a few blocks from the Santa Cruz County Building. Police warned residents to get back in their homes and vehicles. Dispatchers at the 9-1-1 center made a reverse 9-1-1 call to homes and businesses within a mile radius of the cat to inform them of the danger.

Karen Bohrk, who lives near the spot where the cat was seen, said she got a call from a neighbor thanks to a neighborhood social website.

“As soon as I heard about it I came down here,” Bohrk said. “My neighbor gave me a good camera to hopefully get a few shots of it. This never happens here.”

Around 8 a.m. the lion hopped a chain-link fence and plunged about 30 feet into a aqueduct that carries the trickling Branciforte Creek.

The cat made at least one gallant attempt to leap up and out of the concrete cavern but failed. Then it hunkered down in a clump of tall reeds and appeared to be resting. Police were careful to keep a watchful eye on the animal and keep pedestrians and bicyclists off the creek levee.

Over the next three hours a swarm of agencies including State Parks, Fish and Game, Santa Cruz Police and Fire, Wildlife Emergency Services, the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, the UC Santa Cruz Mountain Lion Project and the Santa Cruz Animal Shelter congregated along the aqueduct and developed a plan to ultimately tranquilize the cat and haul it back into the mountains.

“What we want — ideally —is to tranquilize the animal and safely contain it,” said Santa Cruz Police Deputy Chief Steve Clark. “This is a very dangerous area for an animal like this to be.”

Sandra Wishard, who lives near the scene, said she has seen other wildlife move up and down the creek area but nothing like a mountain lion.

“Sure, we’ve seen foxes, coyotes and bobcats, but never this,” she said. “We even lost our rabbit — I think — to a bobcat or a fox. This is really exciting.”

By noon a huge crowd formed along Branciforte Creek, many toting cameras and binoculars. Indeed, a tremendous swell of suspense could be felt as officials scrambled their plan together. At a bend in the aqueduct workers from Wildlife Emergency Services stretched a nylon net across the aqueduct while three Santa Cruz Police officers mounted four-wheel ATVs shoulder to shoulder to form a block. Police sharpshooters, meanwhile, maintained a wary eye on the cat in case it suddenly sprang from its shadowy resting spot.

“I’m just sorry for the mountain lion,” said Rebecca Bogdan. “I guess it just wandered too close to the city and now it’s confused. I really hope they can safely return it to the wild.”

Two shots rang out and both of the tranquilizers hit their target. The stunned lion rose and marched south toward downtown. Clark had warned bystanders that once the lion had been hit by the tranquilizer it could still cover another 100 to 200 yards before it caved in to the effects of the drugs.

A cautious team of workers approached the beast, which had collapsed in the creek bed, and moved it into a large crate.

Clark said the cat was then evaluated by several veterinarians and then taken to a safe habitat about 7 p.m. in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

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