HAYWARD — A mountain lion made a brief appearance Thursday morning at Chapel of the Chimes Memorial Cemetery before being shooed back into the hills by Hayward police officers.
According to police, the cougar did not act aggressively or pose a threat to anyone, but they alerted residents to the animal's presence via automated phone calls.
"We were just taking precautions to let people know that a mountain lion had been seen," Lt. Bernie Licata said.
The animal was spotted in a grove of trees on the northeast border of the cemetery and promptly left when approached, police said.
The state Department of Fish and Game was notified and sent wardens to the scene, but the cat was gone by the time they arrived.
"Our wardens were not able to find any evidence that a mountain lion had been there, so we're calling it unverified at this point," Fish and Game spokesman Kyle Orr said.
Mountain lions are known to move throughout the Hayward hills, and chance cougar encounters are possible whenever deer are present, Orr said.
"The amount of mountain lions in a given region is regulated by deer density," he said. "That's their primary prey. If people have deer nearby, and especially if they are feeding them, they may be inadvertently attracting mountain lions."
Just because a big cat is seen in an area one day doesn't mean it will stick around, Orr added.
"Males have a territory in excess of 100 square miles," he said. "If you see a mountain lion, it could be many, many miles away the next day."
There are 4,000 to 6,000 cougars in California, but encounters with humans are infrequent and attacks extremely rare, Orr said. There have been 14 such incidents since 1890, with six fatalities, he said.
Carolyn Chew, who lives next to Treeview Elementary School and has a son who plays baseball at the Little League field there, was alarmed by the phone message she received and remains wary.
"Of course it makes me a little nervous," she said. "We go hiking up in the hills all the time. I'm sure it's still around, or will be around again."
Residents who see a mountain lion should call 911, police said. Police get "a couple calls a month" reporting such sightings, Licata said.
Eric Kurhi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.