Dead Local Mountain Lion Found to be Full of Various Poisons

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The 10-year-old mountain lion P-41 was found dead on October 4. Test results that came back December 19 revealed he had ingested six kinds of poison.

Another sad end has come to a local mountain lion. 

P-41’s thin body was found on Oct. 4, several days after a wildfire burned part of the Verdugo Mountains area where he had made his home. The 10-year-old cat had been radio-collared as part of an ongoing study of mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, and had safely crossed a busy freeway to establish his territory. He even had his own Facebook page, and was photographed numerous times by citizen scientists who set up motion-activated remote cameras.

A necropsy conducted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife found that his remains were too decomposed to pinpoint an exact cause of death. However, lab work performed by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory discovered six compounds of anticoagulant rodenticides—rat poisons—in his liver: brodifacoum, bromadiolone, chlorophacinone, difethialone, diphacinone and difenacoum.

“P-41 had already overcome a number of challenges to survive in a relatively small home range with habitat fragmented by roads and development,” said Jeff Sikich, biologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA), a unit of the National Park Service, in a prepared statement provided after the mountain lion’s body was found. “Unfortunately, there are a number of challenges for mountain lions to survive in this area.”

Surrounded entirely by urban development and highways, the Verdugo Mountains represent many of the same challenges to wildlife as the Santa Monica Mountains—both are isolated wildlife islands. 

National Park Service studies have found rat poison in 14 out of 15 local mountain lions tested, including a three-month-old kitten. 

“We continue to see indications that these poisons are working their way up the food chain through what we believe is unintentional poisoning,” Dr. Seth Riley of the SMMNRA said in a Dec. 19 statement. 

Mountain lions and other wildlife usually ingest rodenticides by eating smaller animals that ate poisoned bait, or by eating an animal, such as a coyote, that had eaten a poisoned animal.

P-41 would not be the first mountain lion to die from rat poison. On Sept. 30, 2015, the body of P-34, a juvenile female cat, was found by a hiker in Point Mugu State Park. A necropsy showed that she died from anticoagulant rodenticides. 

While recent laws ban the sale of certain rat poisons to consumers, they’re still legal for use by pest-control companies, and several other types are still available for sale. Scientists say the ban isn’t making much of an impact. 

Park researchers believe P-41 had fathered two litters, but that none of his four kittens reached adulthood in the wild—two were hit on freeways and two others now live in a wildlife refuge.

National Park Service biologists, who have been studying mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains since 2002 to determine how they survive in an increasingly urbanized environment, are currently tracking about 11 animals in the region. They first collared P-41 in May 2015, and were especially interested in observing whether he would cross the 210 freeway again. 

Poison Free Malibu, founded by Joel and Kian Schulman, sent the following statement to The Malibu Times:  

“The untimely death of mountain lion P-41 is another example of the continuous flow of poisons in the environment that is affecting wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains and elsewhere,” the statement said. “Six rodent poisons were found in his 10-year-old body. This means an accumulation of multiple poison consumptions from a large number of rodents that intermediate animals, like raccoons and coyotes, had eaten. Once poisoned, the mountain lions die a slow and agonizing death.

“It’s not just mountain lions; studies have shown that 80 to 90 percent of predator wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains have poison in their systems, and poison bait boxes are the culprit,” the Schulmans’ statement continued. “Please do not use poison bait boxes, and inform the big users of them, such as shopping centers and homeowners associations, that they are doing tremendous harm.

“And it’s not just wildlife—50,000 dogs and 10,000 children under the age of six are also accidentally poisoned every year, as reported by the National Poison Data System.”

Poison Free Malibu has a number of tips about how to repel rodents without using poison. HOAs and shopping centers should keep the lids to dumpsters closed. Residences should keep closed lids on garbage cans and not put pet food outside. Businesses and homes can hire a rodent exclusion company to seal up all entrances that rodents might use—around vents, etc. For more tips, go to: PoisonFreeMalibu.org.