Mountain lion found dead in Santa Monica Mountains died from mange

A mountain lion who was being tracked by National Park Service researchers has died of complications from notoedric mange, a highly contagious skin disease caused by a mite parasite, officials announced Monday.

The roughly five-year-old female lion — tagged P-65 — was found dead by biologists on March 4 near a stream in the central Santa Monica Mountains and was the first mountain lion in a two-decade NPS research study to have died from mange.

The NPS reported the lion's case of mange was severe, which was "evidenced by hair loss and skin encrustation, especially on her face and head." Researchers further noted the lion was extremely emaciated at the time of her death.

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"We've had several radio-collared mountain lions that have contracted mange in the past although in previous cases we were able to treat them with a topical anti-parasitic medicine," said Jeff Sikich, a wildlife biologist with the NPS.

"All of these animals recovered from their mange disease as best as we could tell from remote camera photos or later examination. However, in P- 65's case, we did not know about her disease until after she had died."

The NPS also noted P-65 had traces of at least six rat poisons in her system at the time of her death.

Through long-term research on bobcats in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills, notoedric mange was found to be a major source of mortality since it was first documented in late 2001, according to the NPS. The researched showed "a strong correlation" between severe mange and the level of exposure to rat poisons.

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P-65 was first captured and collared in the central portion of the Santa Monica Mountains in March 2018. She survived the Woolsey Fire in November 2018, and GPS locations showed her home range was found to be entirely within the overall burn perimeter.

In August 2019, P-65 became the second radio-collared female mountain lion to cross the Ventura (101) Freeway in the study's history. In the summer of 2020, P-65 gave birth to a litter of three kittens which were tagged P-88, P- 89 and P-90.

P-89 and P-90 were captured in 2021 to be fitted with radio collars, and researchers found both mountain lions had mange. The lions were treated for the mange and remote camera images indicated they had likely recovered, though they were later killed in traffic in Woodland Hills and Ojai.