It can be easy to forget that mountain lions share the hills of Southern California with the bustling city. We have so little contact with the large cats that we can forget how important it is to keep pets and livestock safe in fully enclosed structures at night.
Over Thanksgiving weekend 2016, one landowner north of Malibu, California lost 10 alpacas, purportedly to a mountain lion. Making this situation even more difficult, the accused mountain lion is P-45, a lion many of us have been following for a year now and have grown to love. He was first collared almost exactly a year ago and is the largest male collared since P-1.
The issuance of a depredation permit to kill P-45 is a sad reminder that when we live in the hills, we are still potentially a part of nature.
MLF was already in the mountains at the invitation of National Parks Service, to build a pen and demonstrate the value of preventing conflicts. More than 250 people attended the event.
In a stunning reversal, the landowner decided Thursday to rescind the permit, crediting National Parks, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, and the Mountain Lion Foundation with helping to change her mind by showing how her remaining alpacas could be protected using our dusk-to-dawn secure livestock enclosure. She said " there are alternatives...it is not simply kill it or be terrorized", and committed to immediately installing lion proof enclosures, noting "this lion is incredibly important, and due to his particular genetics and the need for expanding the gene pool among the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains, it would be bad to even relocate it." P-45 will only be captured and given a medical exam rather than killed.
In celebrating this stellar news, let's not forget the 250 other lions that face depredation permits in California every year. The Mountain Lion Foundation is hoping to see a change in depredation law that would place greater responsibility on the owners of domestic animals to protect their pets and livestock when living in mountain lion country. Please help us to make this change by donating today.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is currently required to issue such permits if their biologists establish that in fact a mountain lion was responsible for killing a pet or livestock. A simple change of the words "shall" issue a permit to "may" issue a permit would allow experts to better respond to such conflicts, taking into account the obligation of pet and livestock owners and also weighing the social and ethical cost of killing a lion whose genetic value is remarkably high, as is the situation with the mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains as well as the Santa Anas, and many other places in California.
P-45 finds himself victim to an evolutionary mismatch between the environment in which he evolved and the place where he is attempting to survive today. P-45 evolved to stalk through the brush and pounce on a single deer living in a small herd. Once he makes his move, others in the herd scatter to safety and he is left with a deer that will provide food for the next several days. (P-45 photo credit: National Park Service)
Fast forward to 2016; we've carved up the land with ranchettes and roads, and sprinkled our pets and livestock in between. Next, we build low fences designed to keep domestic animals from wandering. This is where things start to go awry. Mountain lions are excellent climbers and can easily scale most fences. Once inside an enclosure, the prey have nowhere to run, and the cat's predatory instincts are triggered over and over until it has killed every animal in the pen.
This isn't play or viciousness, it's about self-protection. A lion is vulnerable when taking down large prey. Deer have dangerous horns and hooves. So as long as there is a risk, the lion will keep fighting to survive.
This situation certainly doesn't end well for the domestic animals, the landowner, or the mountain lion. But there are steps we can take to prevent scenarios like this one. The most important thing we can do is build sturdy enclosures - with 4 walls, a door, and a strong roof - to safely house our animals in at night.
It is too late for the alpacas which were killed this week. And it's important to note that we don't know the whole story about P-45's interaction with the animals in question. Regardless of the findings, we can use this unfortunate situation to prevent further losses. When we keep our domestic animals safe, we keep our wild animals safe as well.
We had already agreed to co-sponsor an event with National Parks and others to help local livestock owners interested in learning more about enclosures to keep livestock and pets safe from mountain lions and other carnivores. MLF built a pen and and participated in the workshop at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills, on Wednesday, November 30th. Because of the controversy around P-45 more than 250 people attended.
The workshop agenda included experts from California Department of Fish and Wildlife, researchers from National Parks, and representatives from the Mountain Lion Foundation.
Here's some information about the Mountain Lion Foundation demonstration pen to show how simple and cost-effective it can be to protect small livestock animals from mountain lions.
The P-45 situation broke on Giving Tuesday. If you can afford a donation, please help! Our efforts to protect mountain lions in California and throughout the West are largely funded by small donations of our members... people just like you. Thank you!