Mountain lions roam Woodside: Don't be alarmed, experts say


By Barbara Wood

Special to the Almanac

It was around 3 a.m. on Sept. 18 when strange noises roused residents of Audiffred Lane in Woodside, a small cul-de-sac off Miramontes Road a few blocks from Woodside Elementary.

Bob Sawyer, at one end of the cul-de-sac, says he thought it was "a very confused person." Randall Schwabacher, at the other end, decided it was animals riled up by the full moon.

Janet and Bob Self, who live in between, were more disturbed. "The sound was very loud, low, and unworldly," Janet Self says. "I couldn't tell if it was human or animal, but I was pretty sure I would learn that someone or something had been murdered."

It had been. With daylight the neighbors discovered blood and hair splattered on the curb and pavement, and tucked into some bushes about 15 feet away, a deer carcass. Bloody pawprints crossed a nearby driveway and drag marks led to the deer.

Marc Kenyon, senior environmental scientist at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says that photos the neighbors took of the deer and bloody pawprints "are typical of a (mountain) lion's kill and a lion's footprint."

Less than a week earlier, about a mile away on Olive Hill Lane near Albion Avenue, the Gilbert family had two face-to-face meetings with what they are certain was a mountain lion.

The first came when Willie Gilbert and a friend left the house at about 9 p.m. and noticed what they thought was a pit bull about 10 feet away. When it hid under a car with its distinctive long tail sticking out they realized it was a mountain lion, says Willie's father, Bill Gilbert, who noted that mountain lion tracks and scat had earlier been found on their property.

The two young men took another car on their outing.

Later that week, Bill Gilbert saw the mountain lion for himself. After his two dogs raised a fuss, he went outside to look around and saw a cat about 20 feet away.

"I started calling here kitty, kitty," he says. "Then I saw the tail." Bill Gilbert went inside, grabbed a gun and called the Sheriff's Office. Several squad cars responded, but a search did not turn up the mountain lion, he says.

Bill Gilbert estimates the cat weighed between 80 and 90 pounds. The mountain lion was not aggressive, he notes. "He didn't make any moves at the boys."

A mountain lion has been reported to have twice killed goats in Woodside in recent months, and numerous other sightings have been reported, including at least two in broad daylight at 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.

What do all these sightings mean?

Experts, such as Zara McDonald, executive director of the wild cat conservation organization Felidae Conservation Fund, say "this is nothing to be alarmed about." Mountain lions "do not want to attack, or befriend, human beings. They want to avoid, and on occasion are simply curious," she says. "We see more lions now because lions have less room to roam, and they can't differentiate between where they are safe from humans, and where they are not."

"There are no more animals than there were a decade ago," agrees Jeff Norris, the district coordinator for the San Mateo County Office of Emergency Services.

In addition, people who live in Woodside, Portola Valley and other parts of the Midpeninsula that border open space may simply be using modern technology, such as the automated alerts and local websites, to share the reported sightings more widely.

It may also just be the local abundance of deer. Mr. Kenyon said deer attract mountain lions. "One general rule of thumb is that wherever you see a deer, a lion is not too far away," he says.

Ms. McDonald agrees. "They are there because the deer is there," she says. "Do not attract deer and you will never see a lion."

Residents of Audiffred say that deer are often seen browsing on shrubbery where the deer carcass was found.

Mr. Norris says the recent sightings may be a young mountain lion. "It's unlikely that we're looking at an older adult; we're probably looking at an adolescent just about to go out and find their own range."

If sheriff's deputies find the mountain lion, Mr. Norris says, they would let the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife know.

Mr. Kenyon, who is DFW's expert on mountain lions, says the behaviors reported in Woodside are not cause for concern.

"Worrisome behaviors that would really pique our attention," he says, "would be following people, stalking people, sitting in someone's front yard watching people walk by out in the open, out in the broad daylight, where it's not trying to hide."

The department's policy is to try non-lethal options first, including "hazing" an animal with loud noises, shooting it with bean bags, or trapping and relocating it, he says.

For those thinking of taking matters into their own hands, Mr. Kenyon warns that only "a mountain lion that is either threatening to attack or injure people, or (is) in the act of attacking or injuring pets or livestock" can legally be shot. "People may not kill a lion that is simply on their property and not exhibiting any of the aforementioned behaviors," he said.

He also suggested that if a deer is killed by a mountain lion, it be left alone. "Lions will typically feed on their cache for up to four or five days, and they typically won't roam far from the carcass," he says. "Most often, they're hiding but are within eyesight of their cache." He suggests letting neighbors know of the presence of a suspected lion's cache so they can avoid it.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Danger ahead
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Nature at it's finest. I love it up here.

Don't bug them and they won't bug you.

I give this thread a full day before we see the first post by someone suggesting the most dangerous move of all: keeping a gun in the home. Someone who keeps a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to have the gun used on themselves or a loved one than in self-defense.

Clearly the most dangerous decision one can make.

2 people like this
Posted by Collins
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 1, 2013 at 1:15 pm

This sounds dire, but it will only be a matter of time before a local mtn. lion attacks a human. When there are no more deer to pounce on, or dogs or cats, and a mtn. lion gets hungry enough, it will happen. Male mtn. lions establish a fixed territory and keep the others (younger male lions) out, forcing the younger ones to expand outward into residential areas. Because the mtn. lions have no natural predators, their numbers are increasing. My thinking is that controlled, limited hunting of mtn. lions should resume, and I'm no gun guy. Let's not pooh-pooh the problem.

Like this comment
Posted by Thomas
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 1, 2013 at 1:41 pm

I NEVER underestimate the potential of mountain lions to hunt. An acquaintance in Placer County in 1994 was killed by a mountain lion, and her body found half eaten. Barbara Schoener was her name and she was an amazing 5'11" athletic woman!

Like this comment
Posted by Ted
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Oct 1, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Keep seeing the same statistic regarding guns in the first post under different names. That absurd idea follows the same logic as people with cucumbers have a higher probability of self-impalement. The solution is to control their numbers before the predator does what predators do. They hold by the top paws and disembowel with the bottom ones.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Shermer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 1, 2013 at 4:00 pm

*** @Collins presents a fallacy of taking an extremely absurd example of something that will never happen: "When there are no more deer to pounce on, or dogs or cats" The chances of mountain lions running out of deer around here is one in a million. Similar for pets.

*** @Ted wants the numbers: "Consider a 1998 study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery that found that “every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides.”" Web Link

*** 22 times: "four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides"

That adds up to 22 on my calculator. How many do you get, Ted? That's one legit use and 22 TRAGEDIES.

It's not cucumbers, @Ted, it's math.

*** One mountain lion death in 20 years in California?

How many people killed in their own homes by their own guns in 20 years in California? Thousands?

Let us use the google machine for the question "how many people killed in their own homes by their own guns". Well, lookie, lookie what we find! More studies, using math! And science!

*** "Based on a review of the available scientific data, Dr. (Steven) Lippmann (of the University of Louisville School of Medicine) and co-authors conclude that the dangers of having a gun at home far outweigh the safety benefits. Research shows that access to guns greatly increases the risk of death and firearm-related violence. A gun in the home is twelve times more likely to result in the death of a household member or visitor than an intruder.

The most common cause of deaths occurring at homes where guns are present, by far, is suicide. Many of these self-inflicted gunshot wounds appear to be impulsive acts by people without previous evidence of mental illness.

Guns in the home are also associated with a fivefold increase in the rate of intimate partner homicide, as well as an increased risk of injuries and death to children." Web Link

*** Here's a note for fiscal conservatives: "Firearm-related violence vastly increases expenditures for health care, services for the disabled, insurance, and our criminal justice system," writes Dr. Steven Lippmann of University of Louisville School of Medicine, and colleagues. "The bills are paid by taxpayers and those who buy insurance."

*** "Having a gun in your home significantly increases your risk of death — and that of your spouse and children. And it doesn’t matter how the guns are stored or what type or how many guns you own.

If you have a gun, everybody in your home is more likely than your non-gun-owning neighbors and their families to die in a gun-related accident, suicide or homicide.

Furthermore, there is no credible evidence that having a gun in your house reduces your risk of being a victim of a crime. Nor does it reduce your risk of being injured during a home break-in.

The health risks of owning a gun are so established and scientifically non-controvertible that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2000 recommending that pediatricians urge parents to remove all guns from their homes.

Notice that the recommendation doesn’t call for parents to simply lock up their guns. It stresses that the weapons need to be taken out of the house.

Study after study has been conducted on the health risks associated with guns in the home. One of the latest was a meta-review published in 2011 by David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. He examined all the scientific literature to date on the health risks and benefits of gun ownership."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - -

How's that for a Pinko, Lib, Commie Socialist group trying to take away your guns?!?!?!?!

"The health risks of owning a gun are so established and scientifically non-controvertible that the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2000 recommending that pediatricians urge parents to remove all guns from their homes."

*** Read it again: "are so established and scientifically non-controvertible"

It's like a segment of our population can't do simple math.

Have a gun in your house, and EVERYTHING says that bad things will happen to you or your family at a far greater ratio than a gun will ever help.

Mountain lions will not cause a tragedy. @dangerahead is absolutely correct:

A gun is far more likely to cause tragedy in the home than any wild animal. Or any intruder.


Like this comment
Posted by Bill Shermer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm

@Ted "Keep seeing the same statistic regarding guns"

Yes, because it's a documented study from the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery. Like you, I've seen it in numerous places. Is that the start of your Ad hominem attack?

Or are you going to give us some ridiculous numbers about cucumber impalement as you suggested, or fall back on the NRA's fallacious argument about swimming pools being more dangerous?

Like this comment
Posted by gunste
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Oct 1, 2013 at 4:47 pm

Live and Let Live - We live in a rural area with lots of wildlife.
Enjoy it. In my 44 years in Ladera I have seen mountain lions twice, crossing our hillside. I still have a muddy paw print on my front deck which I thought was real neat.
For the first three decades we had fawns born in a thicket down the hill and enjoyed watching them jump around in the grass that was taller that they. We had as many as 10 deer resting on the hillside after grazing. There are fewer now. - Lots of other wild life around to watch and enjoy and watch and list the birds that visit during the seasons.

2 people like this
Posted by Scott McMahon
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 1, 2013 at 5:13 pm

I just had a crazy idea. Do you think we could put GPS trackers on all the mountain lions in the area and set up a cell phone app to warn off joggers and hikers if they get within 100 yards of one?

Like this comment
Posted by Ted
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Oct 1, 2013 at 9:31 pm

The story was about mountain lions, a predator. Control habitat, food sources and the cat numbers will be under control. But, with deer numbers increasing due to less predators, the cat numbers will increase and the deadly human events are on the horizon. History always reminds those who believe they are more educated than experience by way of the hard lesson.

If social interaction is needed, go voluntee at a school, play piano for the elderly, feed the hungy, sweep the streets, but to attempt to pontificate off topic is an indicator of a bigger issue.

Guns, abortion, and free speech rights are equal and to be respected. If you don't want one, don't have one but respect and don't tread on those who do! Cucumbers are safest when sliced, btw, that is common knowledge.

Perhaps the mountain lions are a coded metaphor. What has been really seen is the Booger Man. Ask the police to turn in their service revolvers...let me know the results.

The best real time observations were during the Rodney King riots were the armed Asian business owners on TV protecting their businesses...where the unprotected ones went up on flames. The risk was worth the reward.

Like this comment
Posted by Ted
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Oct 1, 2013 at 9:35 pm

My apology, abortion is act of Congress, not a Constitutional right, like LIFE is.

Like this comment
Posted by Matti
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 2, 2013 at 10:22 am

yo Ted: you claimed the 22X number was the same as cucumber stabbings - what happened to defending that?

Then you moan about someone going off topic and then you deviate into abortion. You big government types, that want your big government grubby hands in/on my body, and in my bedroom, disgust me.

Danger and Bill Shermer are correct. Keep a gun and 'enjoy' increased risk of family disaster. Mountain Lions are not a danger.

As for "Guns, abortion, and free speech rights are equal and to be respected." No. Not even.

Guns are in the 2nd Amendment. The one that starts with:


Which WELL REGULATED militia do you belong to?

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Folks who want to kill wildlife at first sight ought to live in urban areas. if you live in areas bordering wildlands, guess what? You will encounter wildlife. If that bothers you, live elsewhere and let the wildlife and those who enjoy seeing them live in peace.

Like this comment
Posted by Matt
a resident of Woodside: Kings Mountain/Skyline
on Nov 5, 2016 at 2:48 pm


Either you you are unable to differentiate causation and correlation, or you simply simply find it convenient to imply they are interchangeable.

You say: '*** 22 times: "four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides"' in defending the earlier post which argued that "Someone who keeps a gun in the home is 22 times more likely to have the gun used on themselves or a loved one than in self-defense."

In reading the study cited, it is immediately clear that there is no connection between keeping a gun in your home, and the likelihood of having a gun used on yourself or a loved one. The study simply states that guns are used 22 times more often for crimes than self defense. Some how you deduce from this statistic that having a gun for self defense increases gun crimes. Causation vs. correlation... or were you too high during statistics class to remember this distinction.

If every time I drove to the store, 17 people were killed in the United states,according to your logic, me driving to the store causes 17 people to die so I better stop it.

Either you are ignorant, or you feel that peddling blatant lies is okay if it turns people against "evil guns." Which is it Bill? We are all very curious.

Side note - I am pro choice so don't go resorting to personal attacks when you realize the facts don't support your position.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Su Hong Palo Alto's last day of business will be Sept. 29
By Elena Kadvany | 12 comments | 4,271 views

Electric Buses: Challenges and Opportunities
By Sherry Listgarten | 22 comments | 2,667 views

Natural Wines?
By Laura Stec | 1 comment | 848 views

Premarital, Women Over 50 Do Get Married
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 800 views

Stay a part of their day
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 457 views


Register now!

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

More Info