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[whitespace] Coyote sightings, missing cats cause concern in hills

Saratoga--Saratogans lucky enough to live in the hills above the valley floor have long known that they have neighbors other than the ones living in surrounding homes.

With hillside living comes increased wildlife, and it's not uncommon to see all kinds of critters running around. Jack rabbits, deer and even an occasional mountain lion are seen by residents and visitors.

Now, however, many residents living near Pierce Road are worried about coyotes.

Carol Salvatori has seen them, and says that her husband has watched the animals run down their street. One that he recently saw in the middle of the day had something big in its mouth--quite possibly a neighborhood cat.

Signs up and down Pierce Road also call out attention to a lost cat, missing now for more than two weeks. Nobody knows if the feline seen with the coyote was that particular cat. But now, other neighbors are reporting a second cat found recently that was alive, but paralyzed and with puncture wounds in its head.

Richard Mobilio, whose daughter owns "Little Kitty," the missing cat advertised on the flyers, doesn't think it was a coyote but maybe a bobcat that nabbed the tabby. Whatever it was though, Mobilio believes it was probably taken away by some kind of predator.

"I've seen some big 30 or 40 pound cats coming off the hill," Mobilio says, sure that they're bobcats and not mountain lions.

What's worse, he says, is just last week the other cat was found in a tree near Foothill Elementary School. The cat, he says, is "alive but not well."

In the years he's lived off Pierce Road, Mobilio says he can't remember a time when there have been so many sightings and evidence of predators.

"They're effective hunters," he says. "They're all around."

Salvatori says, "It's interesting because [the coyotes] seem to know exactly where they're going. And this is in broad daylight, it's not even at night."

Salvatori says she's well aware of the risks that come with living near wild animals, so she avoided an opportunity last week to hire a private trapper to take care of the problem.

The trapper, she says, told her that he prefers not to kill any animals but would do it if the residents thought it necessary.

"We're just trying to keep our cats inside," she says. "The animal control people said they're just feeding their pups."

That may be true, and according to local California Department of Fish and Game officials who monitor the animals' activity, Salvatori may have made the right call by not taking such a drastic measure.

"We don't like to see them trapped," says Jim Swanson, a senior wildlife biologist at fish and game. "We try to remove the human problem first, before we remove the animal problem."

Swanson says that if worse comes to worst, however, an order can be placed to investigate any animals that may be causing a nuisance, and if it's proven that an animal is to blame Fish and Game can secure a permit to exterminate it.

The best measure, he says, is for residents to try to keep their animals inside. If that's not possible, then they can at least bring in their food and water. Fencing can also help, he says.

Swanson says coyotes are "cosmopolitan"--they're everywhere.

"We get reports from Southern California that they're running around in the streets down there, too," he says. "They're very opportunistic. What's happening is that people are moving out into their territory. Some of them are good at commingling, and others take advantage of people moving out there. Sometimes, they're better at coping with people than people are at coping with them."

So far, his office hasn't received any calls from Saratoga residents complaining of the animals, Swanson says. If the Animal Control office in Santa Clara County had many complaints, they'd likely call Fish and Game.

"Most of the animals that cause a nuisance need to be destroyed, though," says Swanson. "If you move them, they'll just cause a problem somewhere else."
Steve Enders

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