City backs off plan to kill aggressive squirrels

/ Source: The Associated Press

City officials are relenting on a plan to trap and kill aggressive squirrels that have been attacking humans in a popular park.

The city does not have any immediate plans to arm the steel traps placed in the trees at Cuesta Park two weeks ago, said David Muela, the city's community services director.

The city previously said it had no choice but to kill the squirrels after three people — including a 4-year-old boy — were bitten inside the park.

The animals were jumping inside baby strollers, opening food bags and even scratching people giving them handouts including a steady diet of muffins and leftover children's treats, officials said.

The city hired a pest-control company to set the tube traps, which would crush the squirrels while keeping them from public view.

However, there have been no new attacks since a no-food zone was declared around the children's play area, park ranger patrols were increased, and a public education program was launched, Muela said.

"People seem to be getting the message," he said.

The plan to kill the squirrels caused an outcry from animal lovers, who bombarded City Hall with hundreds of letters, phone calls and e-mails.

Animal rights groups also complained, with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals warning the city it could be vulnerable to lawsuits if endangered wildlife were also killed.

Muela said the city is still exploring its options and has not ruled out arming the traps if the attacks start again.