Arroyo Vista residents were relieved to hear that an animal spotted near the housing complex on May 9 was not a mountain lion as originally reported, but a somewhat less dangerous animal: a bobcat.
According to a May 10 e-mail sent to all AV residents, ‘Around 11 p.m. several residents reported seeing a mountain lion around House 1048, Public Affairs Theme House, and House 1058, Chemistry House.’
Maria Sakata, a third-year economics major, described her encounter with the bobcat.
‘I was coming back from the Anteater Recreation Center,’ Sakata said. ‘It was by the bridge. I saw this animal crossing. I thought it was a cat, but it was bigger, almost the size of a dog. It looked at me and I looked at it. It stopped and I stopped, then it went on its way.’
Other students reported similar experiences, according to Heather Gates, acting associate director of residence life for Arroyo Vista.
‘We are unsure of exactly how many students saw the bobcat, but we know of at least four,’ Gates said. ‘The bobcat was not showing any aggressive behavior and fled from the students. According to our reports, the students felt more surprised than frightened.’
According to the UC Irvine Police Department, this misidentification is not uncommon.
‘Bobcats on campus are often mistaken for their larger cousin, the mountain lion, as well as their smaller relative, the housecat,’ according to a police memo. ‘We receive many mountain lion sighting reports that actually turn out to be bobcats. People see a bobcat, can tell it’s something a little more wild than Felix the housecat, and have heard stories about mountain lions on campus, so they make a reasonable leap. In fact, it is much more likely that people would see bobcats than mountain lions; although bobcats, like most wild animals, prefer to avoid humans, they are much less elusive than [mountain lions].’
Mountain lions average between 75 and 150 pounds, whereas bobcats average between 15 and 30 pounds. Mountain lions also prey on larger animals such as deer, which makes them more threatening to humans than bobcats.
‘Bobcats can become accustomed to human presence in their habitat,’ according to the UCIPD memo. ‘The occurrence of problems between humans and bobcats is usually very low, but since they will occasionally prey on housecats, there is the potential for conflict.’
While residents may take some comfort in knowing that the animal sighted was a bobcat, this is not good news for the sizable rabbit population, which probably lured the bobcat to AV.
‘Due to the large supply of food for bobcats, it is possible that the bobcat will return,’ Gates said. ‘Therefore, we immediately put information out to the residents on what to do and what to be aware of.’
Among the suggestions given to students who encounter a bobcat or a mountain lion are not to approach the animal, nor to run from it, which may stimulate its instinct to chase. Stand and face the animal and try to make eye contact. Do not crouch or bend over, but do all you can to appear larger, such as raising your arms and waving them slowly.
Students are advised to show caution around any suspicious animal and to report all sightings to the UCIPD. The nonemergency phone number is (949) 824-5223.