Local male mountain lion kills female mate

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The two lions have been tracked by Park Service researchers since 2003. The two had four yearling offspring, which researchers say are doing well.

By Lori Allen / Special to The Malibu Times

Malibu’s mountain lions are downsizing in the Santa Monica Mountains. The National Park Service reported that a local male mountain lion, called P1 by rangers, fatally wounded his female mountain lion partner, P2, on Aug. 12.

Park Service rangers say that apparently the female lion was with deer kill and her four young offspring when P1 came into the area.

“In part because carnivores are very defensive of their prey and, in part, because P2 was still with the four yearling lions, she may have acted quite aggressively toward P1’s advances,” said Ray Sauvajot, chief of planning, science and resource management for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Consequently, a fight broke out and P1, the larger of the two lions, was able to subdue and subsequently kill P2.”

Seth Riley, a biologist for the National Parks Service, along with Sauvajot, conducts specialized studies of these animals by putting a special Global Positioning System tracking device on the lions. The device allows the mountain lion researchers to track the animals’ location, behavior, mating rituals and other significant data through a transmitter collar that the adult and younger lions wear either on their necks or stomachs.

The two adult mountain lions have been tracked since 2003 and were named as P1, the male, and P2, female. According to the biologists, these lions are very territorial and the territory of P1 extends from Ventura County to Topanga and from Pacific Coast Highway to the 101 Freeway. The territory of P2 was smaller, and she used to stay in the middle of Malibu in the mountains above Point Dume. The two lions had a litter of two males and two females in 2004. Only one male can be in the same territory, so at some point, the two young males and the father might have to fight for it, or will have to find another territory.

Male mountain lions are known to kill their females if she rejects his sexual advances. P2 was coming into heat but may not have acknowledged P1 in the way he would have liked. An influx of inbreeding can occur in the wildlife when the number of males outnumbers the females. It is possible that P1 will start mating with his female offspring and that will cause more controversy with the other male lions in the future.

“Since we are only following P1 and the kittens, it will be interesting to see where they will be going and if the four kittens will continue to coexist in the Santa Monica Mountains or will they travel elsewhere,” Riley said in a recent interview.

Sauvajot said there was no evidence that the yearlings were harmed during the attack on their mother and they believe the young lions are old enough to “now make it on their own.”

“We will continue to monitor the yearling lions and hope to affix stronger radio collars to them soon,” Sauvajot said. “In the meantime, their small implanted transmitters are allowing us to keep tabs on their whereabouts.”

The researchers figured there was a problem with P2 when sensors from her collar beeped twice as fast, indicating a possible death or collar malfunction. Since the study has been initiated, there has never been any technical difficulties in accurately tracking the animals. On the day of the attack, locals told the National Park Service that loud screeches came from the area where the mountain lions live. Another insider says he did not know if the animals were mating or fighting since the shrieks sound similar.

Riley explained that there might be another mountain lion, possibly a female, living in the eastern side of the mountain near Topanga Canyon State Park. No reported sightings of another mountain lion have been verified. However, the researchers are noticing that P1 often travels to this location frequently.

“We do not think there are any other mountain lion kittens and, fortunately, we have not had any problems in public with these animals,” Riley said.

The researchers track the lions by sedating them with immobilizing drugs in order to implant the tracking device collars on their bodies. The animals are put to sleep for an hour in the field. Riley says they try hard not to permanently harm the animals in any way.

Wildlife experts still advise the community to take extra precaution when spending time in the Santa Monica Mountains. Due to a recent mountain lion sighting reportedly near Sacramento, experts say it is important that Malibu property owners and recreation enthusiasts be aware of their surroundings in the outdoors.

“I do urge caution but do not be overly concerned if you see a mountain lion. You are pretty much safe everywhere,” explained Steve Martarano, supervising information officer for the California Department of Fish and Game. “If you look at the risk factor you are more likely to be killed driving to a hiking trail than being attacked on a trail.”

Wildlife researchers explain that these animals generally are more fearful of humans than we are of them. Yet, they recommend that people who live near mountain lion territory should know the importance of preventing conflicts and securing protection measures if a mountain lion spotting should occur.

“There is no indication that the lions we are following in Malibu will be a threat to people,” Riley said. “It does not mean it is not possible, but we found from studying them that there is no indication of them hurting, attacking or stalking anyone.”

As for P1, Sauvajot said, “We will also continue to monitor P1, who is now minding his own business and moving around the Santa Monica Mountains as he always has.”