It could be another East Valley urban myth, to join the ranks of an elusive Mesa alligator. But seven reports of a mountain lion at Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch has experts on watch.
“If it’s as shy as it seems to be, it doesn’t seem to be much danger at all,” said Scott Anderson, director of the Riparian Institute at Greenfield and Guadalupe roads.
Seven visitors, including an Arizona State University professor and bird watchers, have separately called in sightings of what appeared to be a juvenile mountain lion near pond No. 6 along Greenfield Road.
They all reported it walked away from them when spotted, park ranger Scott Cleaves said.
The ranger said that in the six months since the institute began getting calls about a big orange cat, he has never seen it himself, but he takes the calls seriously based on the specifics given by witnesses.
“Somebody was able to describe the black tips at the end of their tails,” Cleaves said. “Others described it as being as big as a Labrador retriever.”
However, the Arizona Game and Fish Department recently surveyed the park for several hours and came up empty, Cleaves said. No scratchings, paw prints or other evidence has been spotted by officials.
Cleaves added that because the park is filled with rabbits, birds and feral cats, a mountain lion could survive without harming neighborhood pets, and easily live unnoticed since it would come out at night when the park is closed.
Anderson said it’s possible that if a lion is present, it came by way of canals or a trail system from the San Tan Mountains in Pinal County.
The sightings come six months after residents at Mesa’s La Valencia apartments said they spotted an alligator living in a lake there. Experts drained the lake, and never found the alligator.
Park visitors on Monday were skeptical that a mountain lion could have traveled deep into the urban East Valley.
“No way, I can’t see a mountain lion out here,” said Nicole Fookes, whose family was visiting from their home on the base of the San Tans.
Renee Carr, whose children attend Christ’s Greenfield Lutheran School next to the park, said the sightings “make me very concerned,” because the playgrounds are separated by just a fence.
But, she added, “I can’t imagine a mountain lion making it this far into the city.”
What to do if you encounter a mountain lion
• Do not hike, jog or ride your bicycle alone in mountain lion country: Go in groups, with adults supervising children.
• Keep children close to you: Observations of captured wild mountain lions reveal that the animals seem especially drawn to children. Keep children in your sight at all times.
• Do not approach a mountain lion: Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.
• Do not run from a mountain lion: Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase. Instead, stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If there are small children there, pick them up if possible so they don’t panic and run. Although it may be awkward, pick them up without bending over or turning away from the mountain lion.
• Do not crouch or bend over: A person squatting or bending over looks much like a fourlegged prey animal.
• Appear larger: Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Again, pick up small children.
Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak firmly in a loud voice.
The idea is to convince the mountain lion that you are not prey and that you may be a danger to it.
• Fight back if attacked: Many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools and their bare hands.
Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal.