city, squirrel problem never went away. Officials report 18 attacks
since May, say plan to thin population is still in effect
Though the furor subsided, the problem with
aggressive squirrels at Cuesta Park never did, with two more incidents
in the past few weeks involving children — one bitten, one scratched —
bringing the total to 18 bites and scratches to humans since May 2006.
City officials say they are still planning to
trap and kill the aggressive squirrels, although they will now be
"It's not a resolved issue," said Kevin Duggan,
city manager. "When there is potential for a child to be scratched or
bitten, unfortunately we can't say we don't have concerns."
Dave Muela, community services director, said a
biting incident involving a child was reported Jan. 7, and another
several weeks ago when a young girl was scratched while holding food.
Duggan says the squirrels continue to rummage through strollers and
bags looking for food, even though park rangers are patrolling the
children's play area every day.
"That's pretty surprising that it's still that
bad," said the Mountain View mother of one young boy who was attacked
at Cuesta Park in May of last year. The mother, who asked that her name
be withheld, said her then-18-month-old was holding a box of juice when
a squirrel jumped on his face and scratched him repeatedly, missing his
eye by inches.
The city has updated its Web site to detail all
of the measures it has taken — such as installing squirrel-proof trash
cans, posting large warning signs and stepping up ranger patrols —
since the attacks began. But the measures, some of which have been in
effect since spring 2006, have yet to eliminate the problem. And Duggan
said the city cannot afford to have rangers patrol the area
According to the city, attacks have occurred
fairly regularly since May, with a spike in September and October, when
the story received attention in the national news. Of the 18 attacks,
six were confirmed to be bites.
"It is very apparent that trapping, live capture
and removal of at least the habituated squirrels is going to become,
and will need to become, a part of our long-term management plan,"
Muela said. "I think the city has maintained that all along."
Muela said the city will likely install live
traps sometime in the future. Last fall, the city had installed
body-crushing traps in trees around the children's play area, but those
traps, recommended by the state Department of Fish and Game, have since
been removed. The new traps would catch the squirrels without harming
them. They would then be taken away and euthanized. Duggan said laws do
not allow the city to relocate the squirrels.
The city believes that park patrons have
unwittingly trained the squirrels to jump at children and into
strollers and bags to find food. A wildlife biologist hired by the city
reported that the squirrels have become habituated, and will remain
that way for an unknown period of time. But animal rights advocates say
the squirrels could be trained to look elsewhere for food.
"All wildlife that live in our neighborhoods
have become 'habituated' to human presence," said Mary Paglieri,
president of the Little Blue Society. "Any animal that is shown that
food is not available will change its behavior to seek food elsewhere."
Squirrels do not hibernate, but may become more
aggressive to protect the little food they have buried for the winter,
Muela said no other parks have had such a
problem with the squirrels, and that it has been isolated to the
children's play area at Cuesta Park. Since the original reports last
summer, park rangers there have been actively shooing squirrels away
from the area. On a recent Thursday afternoon, no squirrels were seen
near the play area, despite the presence of several families.
The Mountain View mother whose son was attacked
said the longstanding problem seems to cycle up and down with the
seasons. In an e-mail last year to city staffers, she said that when
she had her child's scratches treated at the pediatrician's office,
"they told me that they hear about squirrel attacks at Cuesta Park all
the time. They advised us to avoid Cuesta Park entirely."
She said she's done just that, and that she knows "several other families" who also avoid the park because of the squirrels.