Mountain lion sightings increase in local neighborhoods

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Anna Ramsey

Belmont homeowner Anna Ramsey was extremely surprised at this nighttime visitor to her backyard.

The last thing Anna Ramsey expected to see on her home video camera were the two eyes of a wild cat staring back at her.

“When I saw my security camera footage at 11:15 p.m. I found that it was definitely not a deer. I was quite anxious because I’ve never seen a mountain lion outside the zoo where we are all protected,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey’s sighting from her home in Central Belmont is far from an isolated incident. In Belmont, San Carlos, and San Mateo’s local residences, sightings of mountain lions in driveways and backyards are becoming more commonplace. With the proliferation of home security cameras, photos and videos of these large wildlife visitors are emerging and eliciting various reactions. 

On the popular neighborhood social media site NextDoor, posting photos of wildlife visitors are common. Over the past year, there have been increasing pictures, and videos of mountain lions — not only beyond fence lines but walking in driveways next to cars – and, like in Ramsey’s case, some of these pumas are settled right in backyards.

Biologist Zara McDonald, the founder, and president of the  Felidae Conservation Fund, which sponsors the Bay Area Puma Project (BAPP), says they get many reports of mountain lion sightings from NextDoor postings. Overall, sightings are tracked and reported on the site’s Puma and Bobcat Tracking Map. According to the project, sightings are essential as they help evaluate problem areas, movement barriers for wildlife, and potential for human-puma conflict. 

Facts about Mountain Lions by Noah Braunstein

According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, more than half of California is a mountain lion habitat. While they are being captured more often on camera, they are solitary and elusive, and their nature is to avoid humans.

Belmont Police Chief, Tony Psaila, addressed sightings that are reported to the police.

“As far as the frequency of mountain lion sightings is concerned, I believe we have more reports these days, but I suspect that is because residential security cameras are catching more sightings and sharing them on social media, not because there are more mountain lions in the area,” Psaila said.

Nevertheless, as sightings and awareness of these visitors increase, there is concern about whether it is safe with such wildlife right here in our yards or whether the challenge is learning to live with the wildlife that has always lived here.

Heidi Carey, who lives just around the corner from a Belmont elementary school and not far from recent sightings, explained her feelings of concern for children and pets.

“These sightings have been very nerve-wracking. I have changed my routes and shortened my range, but it’s very hard to walk the dogs when you only feel safe enough one hundred feet from your home,” Carey said. 

Growing up in Wisconsin, surrounded by wild animals, Carey explained that people in the suburbs “often don’t realize how dangerous animals can be.”

However, John Van Horn, who has been a resident of the Hastings Drive neighborhood in Belmont for 11 years, counters such concerns.

“I don’t think there’s any more of a safety issue than there’s ever been here. I think that people in the area need to be aware that we live with wildlife and take the proper precautions,” Horn said.

Local students in the area shared their opinions about these reports of the large puma visitors roaming the neighborhood. 

Varsha Raj, a senior, has seen mountain lions visiting her yard in the San Carlos Hills and feels that mountain lions remind us of our responsibility in the local ecosystem.

“We technically invaded their home, and it is our job to co-exist with them,” Raj said. 

Sophomore Savannah Bols, who also lives in San Carlos, agreed that awareness begins with humans.

“Mountain lions, like all animals, do not understand boundaries, so to them, our homes and neighborhoods are just a part of their habitat,” Bols said.

McDonald explained that they are working to educate better and inform the public. Rather than mountain lions threatening humans, McDonald expressed that BAPP’s work aims to prevent a local extinction event in the Bay Area.

“We are seeing reductions in puma presence overall in the Bay Area in the last five years,” McDonald said.

For now, as more technology reveals what is around us, Psaila encourages the community to report sightings. “Although one can expect to see mountain lions around Belmont, a neighborhood notification is prudent,” Psaila said. 

Hopefully, given education and awareness, both parties, humans, and wildlife, can live peacefully and safely together in a shared environment.

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