Mountain lion kills several alpacas in Santa Monica Mountains

- A permit to shoot and possibly kill a mountain lion was granted to a ranch owner in the mountains above Malibu Monday, when a state game warden determined the lion was the culprit in the killing of a dozen farm animals over the weekend.

Ten alpaca were killed at one ranch near Mulholland Highway at Decker Canyon Road Saturday. At a second, nearby location, one goat and another alpaca were torn apart Sunday.

The warden determined the animals were killed by a mountain lion, and a male named P-45 was "strongly suspected" to have been the culprit, said California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Andrew Houghan.

A depredation order was issued late in the afternoon, under a state law that allows a person to shoot a mountain lion if it has been killing livestock or pets.

"We were notified by the state this afternoon," said Kate Kuykendall, acting superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area told Malibu radio station KBUU. "We can confirm that P-45 was in the area (of the attacks)."

Federal biologists have been studying and tracking the 10-15 mountain lions believed to live in the mountains bounded by the Ventura (101) Freeway to the north, the San Diego (405) Freeway to the east, Ventura County farmland to the west and urban development or the ocean to the south.

Mountain lions are not endangered or protected in California, but the lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains are cut off from the rest of the animals by freeways.

Although federal parks officials have been encouraging efforts to accommodate the mountain lions, it falls to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife to handle wayward cats that attack livestock. The state's policy is to not trap and relocate wayward lions, but to allow them to be killed.

"The lion is obviously killing for sport -- not food,'' said Mary-Dee Rickards, who lies on a nearby ranch, in a statement to KBUU radio.

"I know everyone who lives up here not only respects but enjoys the beautiful wildlife,'' she said. "But this has gone beyond a peaceful co- existence with the animals.''

Rickards is one of several people who live within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area who have lost animals to the cat.

Residents in the scattered homes and rugged territory off Mulholland Highway at Decker Canyon Road blame the one cougar, P-45, for killing sheep and alpaca kept as pets on ranches. One horse was badly injured, allegedly by P-45, several months ago.

P-45 is wearing a functioning radio location transmitter, and the National Park Service biologists who track him believe he is 4 years old. He was tagged with a radio transmitter and blood tested several years ago, and is biologically not related to the other mountain lions who have been trapped and tested in the mountains.

The apparent cougar attacks come as federal park rangers are trying to improve the bloodlines of the mountain lions near Malibu, who are trapped by freeways in a 40-mile long, 15-mile wide wedge of wild mountains between Los Angeles and Camarillo. Other cougars have shown signs of inbreeding and the lack of genetic diversity has lead biologists to conclude the pack of cats in the park are doomed to die out within 50 years.

Two weeks ago, state Wildlife Commission officials approved a $7.1 million land acquisition along the Ventura (101) Freeway west of Calabasas. Mountain lion advocates are hoping to build a landscaped wildlife bridge over the freeway to allow the cats to pass back and forth to mountains near Simi Valley and in central California.

On Wednesday, federal rangers have scheduled  a "Living In Mountain Lion Country" seminar for residents of the Santa Monica Mountains to learn how to void conflicts with the mountain lions. That meeting is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the NPS Paramount Ranch movie set, 2903 Cornell Road, in Agoura Hills.

Rickards said mountain residents want to attend the meeting and press the NPS and state game wardens to trap and relocate troublesome cougars, rather than let problem cougars develop a habit of killing livestock, and forcing residents to kill them.

Residents in the sparsely-settled and rugged mountains above Malibu have been complaining for weeks that the adult male cat known as P-45 was getting more and more brazen. Attacks have been rare, as mountain lions generally shun people and their animals, and eat deer.

Many ranchers have shipped their livestock out of the mountains since P-45 was suspected of eating alpaca, sheep and barnyard animals kept as pets.

But other Malibu residents have noted that the lions were in the mountains first, and that people with livestock should build protective enclosures for their animals.

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