While on a walk with her small son in a stroller and the family dog, Kensington resident Monika Yilmaz spotted a mountain lion next to a home on Lake Drive in Kensington about 3:30 p.m. Friday, Yilmaz told Patch.
She was on a fire trail just behind Lake Drive homes at a location about 2,000 feet north of the Berkeley border and about the same distance east of the Little Farm in Tilden Park.
She was taking her daily walk, accompanied by her three-year-old son and their dog, a male boxer, when she saw the big cat sitting "completely still" on a landing beside the home, she said.
At first she thought it was a statue and even paused to point it out to her son. Only when it moved did she realize that it was live cougar, at which point her heart began pounding as she took off running with the stroller and dog, she said. The mountain lion loped off in the opposite direction, toward the front of the house facing Lake Drive, she said.
After safely reaching Grizzly Peak Boulevard, she called 911, got put on hold, and was finally routed to a Richmond police dispatcher who told her to call animal control, she said. She happened to have the Kensington police dispatch phone number on her cell phone and called it instead. An officer showed up within three minutes, she said. The mountain lion was long gone.
Linda Lipscomb, a member of the Kensington Police Protection and Community Services District, sent a notice to her neighbors, urging them to be careful when using the trail. Another Kensington resident contacted Patch urging publication of an article since some school children use the path.
"I walked that trail for 12 years and I never saw anything like that," Yilmaz recalled Tuesday in an interview with Patch.
"The whole encounter was bizarre," Yilmaz said. Her son had been reluctant to go on the walk, so she persuaded him by promising to play "I spy" with the search focused on finding a mountain lion. They even made a show of looking for mountain lion footprints.
The trail they took runs from Kensington Hilltop Elementary School to the northern terminus of Grizzly Peak Boulevard, and the section where she spotted the cougar runs behind houses on the last block of Lake Drive before its northern terminus at a trail head. The fire trail she was on is a popular neighborhood hiking destination next to the wildlands of Wildcat Canyon Regional Park and Tilden Nature Area.
They were headed toward Grizzly Peak when she looked up the hill to the backs of houses on her right and saw a large animal "completely still" next to one of the homes, she said.
"Something big was sitting on the landing near the front of the house," she said. "She has a lot of stuff in her yard. The whole time I thought it was a statue. It's not moving. Not a muscle twitched."
She also wondered if it could be a large dog but decided the head was too small. She pointed it out to her son, even turning his stroller so that he could get a better look. Her dog, who was off-leash, didn't notice a thing.
"Look, there's the mountain lion," she told her son.
She still wasn't sure what to make of it and just kept looking at it. "It was like a three-minute stare contest," she said.
"All of a sudden it got up," she said. Its tail was big, almost as long as its body, and its shape and the way it moved confirmed what it was, she said.
"My heart rate went up," she said. "Once it stood up, I knew it's real. I was between it and the park, so I started running. I ran up to Grizzly Peak and then I really got scared. ... By then I was calling 911."
Asked if she would be taking any more daily walks on the trail, she said she would as long as she's with other people. She said the big cat seemed like it just wanted to avoid her and get away.
And, she added, she plans to buy a bear horn to carry with her on future walks. "If one comes near me, I would blow the bear horn."
Other mountain lion sightings
An El Cerrito couple reported seeing a mountain lion in July last year on nearby on Havey Canyon Trail in Wildcat Canyon Regional Park.
Mountain lion sightings are not uncommon in the East Bay hills. Several have been reported in the slopes around the Lawrence Berkeley lab and above the UC Berkeley campus.
UC Berkeley police issued a safety alert on Oct. 13 after a report of three cougar cubs seen chasing a doe and two fawns next to campus' Smyth Fernwald Family Housing complex at the top of Dwight Way in the Berkeley hills.
Have you spotted a mountain lion? Mark the location on our mountain lion map.
UC Berkeley police offer the following advice on encountering mountain lions:
To reduce the chances of encountering a Mountain Lion:
• Avoid hiking alone, especially between dusk and dawn, when lions
normally do their hunting. Make plenty of noise while you hike so as to
reduce the chances of surprising a lion.
• Always keep children in sight while hiking and within arm's reach in
areas that can conceal a lion. Mountain Lions seem to be drawn to
• Hike with a good walking stick; this can be useful in warding off a lion.
To reduce the chances of an attack when encountering a Mountain Lion:
• Do not approach a lion, especially if it is feeding or with its young.
Most lions will avoid confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
• Stay calm and face the lion. Do not run because this may trigger the
lion's instinct to attack. Try to appear larger by raising your hands.
• Pick up small children so they don't panic and run. This will also make
you appear larger. Avoid bending over or crouching.
• If the lion acts aggressively, throw rocks, branches, or whatever can be
obtained without turning your back or bending over.
• Fight back if attacked. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the
head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. People
have successfully fought back with rocks, sticks, or bare hands.
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