How to Rein in Killer Mountain Lions Without Shooting Them

P-45 says, "This look like I'm smilin'?"
P-45 says, "This look like I'm smilin'?"

In 1990 California voters approved the Wildlife Protection Act. It prohibits hunting mountain lions, which a recent study says could become extinct within 15 years.

News that a Malibu-area rancher received a permit to kill a mountain lion, known as P-45, has animal advocates shuddering. The state depredation permit allows those whose livestock has been killed to fatally shoot the suspect in question within 10 days. P-45 has a tracking collar that indicated he was in the area during the attacks on livestock. But two developments this week, including forthcoming legislation, could save the big cat and keep others out of the crosshairs for years to come.

The rancher, Victoria Vaughn-Perling, says she will not act on the permit. She had asked state Department of Fish and Wildlife for permission to capture P-45 and release him at a wildlife refuge such as Wildlife Waystation in Sylmar. However, the state doesn't issue permission to capture and release, her attorney, Reid Breitman of the Kuzyk Law firm, says.

"The permit says you must kill it with a rifle," he says. "We determined she can only kill, and Fish and Wildlife confirmed that."

The property owner also feared that P-45 was on a killing spree. He had been shot and wounded in March, Breitman said, contributing to her suspicion that the cat has been acting out. Experts believe P-45 has killed more than 50 farm animals in the Santa Monica Mountains this year. Vaughn-Perling said the cat took out 10 alpacas and a goat on her ranch over the weekend. She feared that the mountain lion might attack her and her son next, she told reporters at a news conference today.

"Mountain lions are great, they're all part of this environment in this area, but this one seems to be very prolific," she said.

Indeed. Genetic testing determined that P-45 is the father of five adorable kittens discovered in the eastern Santa Susana Mountains this summer, said Kate Kuykendall of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Vaughn-Perling has indicated that she's now satisfied that officials with Fish and Game, as well as the National Park Service, will handle the situation. A National Park Service official took a look at her property Thursday and made recommendations on how to make it more secure, Breitman says. All her livestock are now in an enclosed area.

In the meantime, state Assemblyman Richard Bloom, who represents the Malibu area, says he'll soon introduce legislation giving Vaughn-Perling and others like her additional legal options, possibly including catch and release. His office reported that thousands of mountain lions have been the victims of permitted kills, many because there was no other viable option.

"I intend to introduce legislation to increase the flexibility and nonlethal tools available to the Department of Fish and Wildlife for dealing with these incidents," Bloom said in a statement.

Voter-approved initiatives can't be changed by the Legislature unless their language allows it, Bloom's spokeswoman explained. In the case of the Wildlife Protection Act, it's allowed, but only if four-fifths of the Assembly and Senate approve the revision.

For now, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who assisted Vaughn-Perling as she sought help, called the matter of P-45's immediate fate resolved.

"I am very grateful to the property owner for her willingness to work with my office, the National Park Service, the National Wildlife Federation and others, to spare the life of one of the precious few mountain lions left in our Santa Monica Mountains," she said in a statement.


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