From its hills to its valleys, the 7,220 acre Mission Trails Regional Park is home to many different types of wildlife.
The list includes bobcats and mountain lions, the source of confusion for some hikers.
“Occasionally, we will get calls or people will come into the Visitor’s Center all excited and freaked out thinking they saw a mountain lion. When they start describing it to us, we realize they actually saw a bobcat,” said Park Ranger Heidi Gutknecht. “They think it’s an unusual thing when, in all reality, this is their home and we are the visitors.”
Gutknecht has worked with the City of San Diego since 2001. She manages the monthly volunteer Habitat Restoration Crew, and enjoys keeping the park and its visitors safe. That includes protecting and preserving nature in all its forms.
When the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center reached out to Gutknecht about coordinating a wildlife animal release in the park, she was ready and willing to help.
In July, a yearling bobcat was hit by a car in Tierrasanta, a residential community adjacent to Mission Trails Regional Park.
“A concerned citizen brought her into a local emergency animal hospital, she was unconscious at that time and then brought to us,” said Amy Smith, an animal care specialist with the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona. “She had suffered trauma to her head and lower body and, as a result of that, she actually suffered a miscarriage so she had a stillborn kitten.”
Thanks to the animal care team, the bobcat was rehabilitated in a month’s time and was ready for release back into her natural habitat in Mission Trails. The Fund for Animals is a non-profit organization that provides medical and rehabilitative care for wild animals. The group is often called when a predatory mammal is found injured, ill or is in need of help.
“When we are looking for a release site, we depend heavily on private citizens, park rangers and land managers who are open to working with us so we can have an agreement to help return this animal to its home,” said Smith.
The Fund worked closely with Gutknecht to determine the best place in the park suitable for releasing the bobcat.
“We’ve had Fund for Animals release wildlife here [in Mission Trails Regional Park] before and it’s always real gratifying to see them after they’ve gone through a tough time and getting to go back home, into their natural habitat, it’s very rewarding,” said Gutknecht.
Mission Trails is one of the largest urban parks in the country with both natural and developed recreational space. The park is operated and maintained by the City in partnership with the Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation.
“We’re just happy that we have a place like this that can accommodate wildlife and that at least there is still a pocket in nature within all the city hustle and bustle,” Gutknecht said. “It’s nice to know we still have this little haven for them to return to.”
The bobcat was successfully released into the park on August 19th, 2016.