Mountain lion causes scare in N. Berkeley


It was first spotted near Chez Panisse restaurant on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. It ran west into a residential neighborhood before officers caught up with it in the driveway of someone's home on Walnut Street.

The first sighting was reported just after 2 a.m. When police arrived, they found the animal running down Cedar Street, then Spruce Street, through an area congested with many restaurants and businesses.

Police say at one point the cat went into a playground at a church. It was then spotted on Oxford Street and later ended up in the backyard of a house in the 1600 block of Walnut Street. Residents there were told by police to stay inside.

Police found the mountain lion and even though they shot it twice, it somehow made its way to the driveway of another house where it was shot again and finally killed. It was a female mountain lion weighing about 90 pounds.

"A police officer said, 'It's just a mountain lion ma'am, but it's still moving so you should go back inside where it's safe,'" recalled neighbor Annemarie Charlesworth. "I said, 'OK, thank you.'"

"The city of Berkeley police officers are not equipped to manage a wild animal," said Sgt. Mary Kusmiss. "[With] the possibility that a community member would step out of the house early to go to work... they felt that this mountain lion posed a significant public safety hazard."

Many members of the public are wondering why police had to kill the mountain lion. Berkeley police say their officers are not trained and do not have tranquilizer guns. They say they were in contact with the Fish and Game Department, but the department's regional office is all the way in Sacramento.

Tilden Regional Park is just two miles up the hill, so it is not uncommon to see mountain lions up there, but in the famed Gourmet Ghetto residents suspect the mountain lion was down here trying to get a bite to eat herself.

Neighbor Daniel Turman is still absorbing what he saw when police kill a mountain lion in the heavily populated downtown neighborhood.

"They allowed me to look at the animal which was quite large, approximately 4-and-a-half to 5 feet long. The reports of a 100 pounds seems quite accurate. It was a big animal," said Turman.

"I wish they could have caught it and maybe [put it] in a zoo, at least take it into a reserve or something," said neighbor Liz Scherer.

Police said it would have been too risky to let the big cat just run loose near where many restaurant employees were getting off work.

"There are quite a number of people next door at Chez Panisse, and people down the street. Sure there are a number of people out late," said Cesar restaurant employee Greg Estow.

"And I assume if the lion was there at 3 o'clock in the morning it could have been 7, 8, or 9. There's going to be kids walking to school from up there, a pack of them tomorrow morning, and the playground will be full," said neighbor Marianne Tancor.

Residents in the neighborhood suspect the mountain lion was simply following its food source - deer that wonder the streets regularly.

Fish and Game said this is an extremely rare occurrence and there is not much concern that another mountain lion will visit the Gourmet Ghetto any time soon.

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