gmhTODAY 08 gmhToday May June 2016 - Page 46

Of Swimming Holes and Mountain Lions M ountain lion attacks on people do happen. Signs are posted at most parks and open space preserves warning trail users to be aware of their surroundings and how to protect themselves by not running away and fi ghting back. The tragic news is that since 1890 there have been about 20 attacks with six fatalities. And in recent years, there have been more encounters including a 2014 attack of 6-year old boy who was hiking with his parents in Cupertino. Typically, mountain lion habitat exists wherever deer are found which means almost half of California and most of Santa Clara County. The good news is that mountain lions, also known as cougars, are mostly solitary animals, elusive and usually anxious to avoid direct contact with people. Still it is best to be prepared and take precautions when living in or visiting mountain lion territory. In 1909, the community of Morgan Hill was devastated by the deaths of Isola Kennedy and Earl Wilson from a mountain lion attack near today’s Anderson Dam. Before swimming pools became commonplace, most people frequented “swimming holes” to cool off during the hot summer days of our inland valley. Out by Oak Dell Park on Watsonville Road, Ma (Minnie) Kell had a baseball field, a small campground and an area of Uvas Creek that she had impounded to form a tree-shaded swimming hole. And there was a swimming tank at the old Redwood Retreat that sourced its water from Little Arthur Creek. At Gilroy Hot Springs, a concrete tank was built in 1917 to replace the redwood baths, with bleachers for onlookers to view the frolicking swimmers. Yet it was to Coyote Gorge (later called Island Dell Park) that Isola Kennedy, accompanied by five young students from her Sunday School class at Machado School, decided to picnic and then cool off in the waters of Coyote Creek on July 6, 1909. On that warm afternoon, a rabid mountain lion pounced on young Earl Wilson and Miss Kennedy went to his rescue using a tree branch and then an eight-inch hat pin in trying to fend off the attack. A couple of other boys ran for help and found Jack Conlan who was surveying for the Bay Cities Water Company. He grabbed his shotgun but was unable to get a shot off because it might have hit Miss Kennedy. She fought the cougar valiantly until Conlan returned with a rifle and killed the animal. Both Earl Wilson and Isola Kennedy were badly mauled, but their injuries were not considered to be life threatening, It was the rabies infection that 46 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN both victims succumbed to after weeks of painful suffering. Miss Kennedy was a well-respected member of the newly incorporated town of Morgan Hill. She was engaged to a dentist and was very active in the Christian Women’s Temperance Union. On her tomb- stone at Mt. Hope Cemetery is inscribed “Sacrificed her life battling a lion to save some small boys.” Today, the likelihood of being attacked by a mountain lion is extremely low. There is a much greater chance of being struck by lightning or dying from a pet animal attack. Personally I have never seen a lion, only evidence of its hunting activity in the form of a deer’s remains that I spotted while hiking off trail. And probably that lion was watching me, so I thought that it might be could a good idea to back away from the scene. Yet, I do regret never having had the opportunity to see one of these magnificent animals in the wild. An adult cougar is tan in color with black tipped ears and tail. A male lion can weigh over 100 pounds, standing nearly three feet in height at the shoulder and reaching six to 8 feet in length from nose to tail tip. It is a majestic animal that personifies strength, with powerful graceful movements and will only yield to bears and humans. When running, a cougar can bound up to 40 feet and they can leap 15 feet into a tree and reach speeds of 50 mph in a sprint. Robert Redford, in an introduction to the book, “Cougar: The American Lion” stated that “the cougar’s solitary and stealthy life- style feeds its mystery. And, unfortunately, mystery breeds fear, myth and misinformation. Since our European ancestors arrived on American shores 500 hundred years ago, we have waged war on larger predators - grizzly bears, wolves, jaguars, coyotes and cougars. Only small populations (except for the most adaptable coyote) survive in their original habitats and continued encroachment by the onslaught of our human development threaten those that remain.” Mountain lions once occupied the entire United States from coast to coast, but today they are only found in the West, with a small remnant population in Florida. A lion maintains a hunting territory averaging 100 square miles in which it is constantly on the move, hunting usually from dusk to dawn. This territorial nature makes the relocation of lions very difficult, so problem animals are usually shot. And the size of their range makes the continuing fragmentation of the landscape by high- ways or housing problematic for their survival. Most likely, the main cause of lion mortality is becoming road kill. Recent efforts to build MAY/JUNE 2016 STOCK Written By Mike Monroe