California authorities are trying to apprehend the individual or individuals responsible for killing a mountain lion believed to have genetic ties to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
The death of the male lion, P-15, was discovered September 11 when a hiker came upon the lion's body, NRA spokeswoman Lauren Newman said Tuesday.
"The carcass was mutilated. It was definitely human-caused," she said.
The death is thought to have occurred in late August, when the lion's radio collar stopped transmitting. It came about the same time that another male mountain lion, P-18, was killed when struck by a vehicle while trying to cross Interstate 405.
NRA and state of California Department of Fish and Game officials are particularly concerned about the latest loss because there are few male mountain lions thought to be left in Southern California's mountains.
“This is a significant blow to the mountain lion research study,” said Park Service wildlife ecologist Seth Riley. “There are not a lot of mountain lions left in the Santa Monica Mountains, and each one plays an important role in the overall local survival of the mountain lion population.”
Each of the lions in the study wear a GPS radio locater collar. P-15’s collar stopped transmitting on August 25. Shortly after that, DFG and NPS received a call of a dead mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains.
"It was a hiker who called it in. The biologists are pretty well known for running the mountain lion study, so they called the park and it was passed along," said Ms. Newman. "One of the biologists actually went out with the reporting party to the location."
Genetic testing by the UCLA Conservation Genetics Research Center conclusively determined that the dead mountain lion was P-15.
P-15 was first captured in Point Mugu State Park in November of 2009 and has used most of the Santa Monica Mountains as his home range over the two-year period that the NPS followed his movements. He is genetically similar to the other mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. P-15 was the only remaining male in the Santa Monica Mountains with a working GPS collar.
Park Service biologists devote considerable time and resources to capturing and fitting mountain lions with collars; it could take several weeks for a successful operation, and the loss of even one lion is a setback to the research on wildlife movement and the importance of habitat connectivity.
Mountain lions are designated as a “specially protected species” in California, and it is illegal to hunt or trap them. Given their large spatial and prey requirements, mountain lions and other large carnivores are a strong indicator of ecological health for an area.
The National Park Service believes there are at least seven other mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, including P-12, P-13, and P-19.
"In general, the amount of habitat is enough to support up to 10 approximately," Ms. Newman said.
The National Park Service began studying mountain lions at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in 2002. A total of 21 mountain lions have been tracked via radio telemetry and GPS collars in that time. In addition to studying mountain lion movement, a genetics study is also ongoing to discover indications of possible inbreeding among the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains.
California Department of Fish and Game and the National Park Service seek information related to the death of P-15 and the parties responsible. The DFG Cal Tip Hotline is 1-800-334-2258.