Mountain lion killed by poachers in the Santa Monica Mountains
A mountain lion found dead last month in the western Santa Monica Mountains was killed and mutilated by poachers, according to state fish and game wardens who are seeking tips in the case.
“We're going to have to get lucky on this. There's virtually no forensic evidence," said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game. Investigators, he added, are hoping a member of the public will hear “somebody bragging about how they killed a mountain lion and they'll call us” at (800) 334-2258, the agency's hot line.
The 7-year-old male, known as P-15, had been tracked for nearly two years by National Park Service biologists who trapped him in Point Mugu State Park. They outfitted him with a GPS collar as part of an ongoing study of mountain lion movement in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
One of six or seven mountain lions believed to live in the Santa Monicas, he roamed the entire range.
In late August, P-15's collar stopped transmitting signals. Biologists searched the area of his last known location but did not find him. Then on Sept. 11, they received a call from a member of the public who had found a mountain lion carcass in a canyon between Cal State Channel Islands and Newbury Park in Ventura County.
The tracking collar had been removed and the animal had been mutilated. To determine its identity, researchers sent tissue samples to the UCLA Conservation Genetics Resource Center, which compared it to samples previously taken from mountain lions in the study. It was P-15.
Also known as cougars or pumas, mountain lions are protected under state law. It is illegal to kill them for sport. Of the 21 tracked since the Santa Monica Mountains study was launched nearly a decade ago, a number have died. But park service wildlife ecologist Seth Riley said P-15 is the first poaching victim.
A young male was killed in late August attempting to cross the 405 Freeway during morning rush hour near the Getty Center. Two pumas have died after eating poisoned rodents.
Riley said the most common cause of death "is males killing other males” -- possibly because they don't have enough room to stake out new territory of their own. “Normally young males disperse out to new areas and that is especially challenging in the Santa Monica Mountains,” which are hemmed in by development and freeways.
Researchers are still tracking a female puma, the sister of the animal killed on the 405, as well as two males that were in the nearby Santa Susana Mountains. One of them recently crossed Highway 126 and headed north into the Los Padres National Forest. Other mountain lions have been photographed with remotely operated cameras set up by researchers.
P-15's killing “is a significant blow to the mountain lion research study,” Riley said.
-- Bettina Boxall
Photo: The mountain lion identified as P-15, recorded by a remote camera in the Santa Monica Mountains. Credit: National Park Service