There are two types of warning signs at the county park in the Pine Valley pit stop at the base of the Laguna Mountains.
First, there's “NO WATER BALLONS” and, in Spanish, “NO GLOBOS DE AGUA.” It's a litter thing and an animal-protection thing: “We don't want the wild critters to eat the balloon parts,” says David Martinez, district manager for San Diego County Parks and Recreation. “It's like having a piñata party and not cleaning up after yourself.”
And the reason for translation—and the piñata reference—is that water balloons may be a cultural thing.
“A lot of our misuse came from park users in Imperial Valley,” Martinez says. “A lot of them are Spanish-speaking, and this is a way to communicate with them better.”
The second sign is a long, illustrated mountain-lion warning with seven tips for surviving an encounter. It is not repeated in Spanish.
In 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau found that 75 percent of Imperial County is Hispanic and 69 percent speak a language other than English at home. When it comes to a mountain lion's preference, Latino flesh largely is assumed to be the same flavor as Anglo flesh.
“Any kind of warnings should be accessible and available to everybody who resides in San Diego and visits all the facilities we have, especially when there are threats to human life,” says Raymond Uzeta, president and CEO of the Chicano Federation of San Diego.
“Good point,” Martinez says, unable to provide an explanation for the discrepancy.
According to the California Department of Fish and Game, the last mountain-lion attack in San Diego County occurred in December 1994, when a 56-year-old woman was mauled fatally in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the attack occurred near Lookout Fire Road and Azalea Springs Fire Road, where a bench has been dedicated to the hiker's memory.
The department has recorded 15 verified mountain-lion attacks statewide since 1890. The media have reported two more accounts, one involving a small child and another when a lion mistook a camouflaged hunter with a birdcall for a turkey.
The mountain-lion signs warn park-goers not to run, not to crouch and to “hold your ground, wave your hands.” The sign also recommends that if the lion seems aggressive, one should throw stones.
Ironically, water balloons could be just as effective—if not more humane—against the beasts, says Tim Dunbar, executive director of the Sacramento-based Mountain Lion Foundation.
“I guess it's always possible,” Dunbar says. “The basic rule is to make yourself appear large and threatening and make noises to scare it off.”
Because of the elusive and solitary nature of lions, there is very little empirical evidence of how large the lion population is or how effective English shouts are versus Spanish ones.
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