Rancher Backs Off Killing Mountain Lion P-45 After Local Uproar

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An example of an inexpensive livestock enclosure that costs about $600 to build is displayed outside a meeting last week hosted by NPS, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, and the Mountain Lion Foundation.

Local mountain lion P-45 appears to have gotten a reprieve. After killing 10 alpacas at one property off Mulholland and two more animals at another property on Nov. 26 and 27, the California Department of Fish & Wildlife issued a depredation permit to rancher Victoria Vaughn-Perling at her request. The 10-day permit would have allowed an agent to kill the cougar within a 10-mile radius of the rancher’s property. A local uproar ensued with over 300 people attending a meeting last week — most outraged by the “license to kill,” as opposed to being in favor of it. The rancher held a press conference at her property the next day and announced she did not intend to act on the permit, which is set to expire Dec. 8.

“I’m very grateful to the property owner for her willingness to work with [various agencies and nonprofits] to spare the life of one of the precious few mountain lions left in our Santa Monica Mountains,” LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl wrote, adding, “I look forward to assisting other property owners in utilizing the most effective enclosures to protect both their livestock and our precious wildlife.”

A safe enclosure for the remaining alpacas to go into at night has now been built for Vaughn-Perling by the National Wildlife Federation, free of charge.

On Dec. 1, Vaughn-Perling, who owns a three-acre property off Mulholland where she’d been raising 25 alpacas — now 15 — held a press conference in front of her original alpaca enclosure. It was plain to anyone watching  that the rickety-looking six-foot fence would be no challenge for a hungry mountain lion to jump over — even if the fence was electrified and had motion detector lights, as she claimed. 

“My enclosures aren’t wonderful, but I didn’t have the resources to build them [any better],” she told KBUU radio.

Many questioned why a property owner would choose to keep unprotected livestock in an area with large roaming predators. Vaughn-Perling claimed she bought the land because it was zoned “agricultural” and was also “rural and remote,” and claimed she didn’t realize there were mountain lions there. Backlash from area residents has been fierce.

Many locals and animal activists condemned Vaughn-Perling for getting the permit to have the cougar shot, saying it was her fault for failing to keep her livestock safe and alleging she was neglecting the animals’ safety.

“I have driven past [her] home on Mulholland many times… and the alpacas’ living situation is far from ideal,” one Malibu resident posted on a social networking site. “The animals have no safe enclosed sleeping pen nor do they have guard dogs, which would be a huge help. Homeowners that live in the mountains should be properly prepared for these types of encounters.”

Jeff Sikich, an NPS biologist and mountain lion specialist who has been studying radio-tagged Santa Monica Mountain lions since 2002, hoped to quell some of the fear-mongering with scientific facts at last week’s informational meeting. He said at any given time, there are typically two adult males and four to six adult females in the mountains, plus juveniles or kittens. Their diet is 88 percent mule deer, plus coyotes and raccoons. The big cats are nocturnal.

They kill and eat, on average, one deer per week, according to information animal advocacy group Poison Free Malibu provided. If there are six to eight adult mountain lions, that’s at least 300-400 deer per year throughout the area. Without these only remaining large carnivores, which are important to the ecosystem, deer could multiply exponentially, resulting in all kinds of other problems, including vehicle collisions.

Of the 53 lions Sikich studied over the years, most of which are now dead (they have a 12-year lifespan), three died from rat poison, 11 were hit by cars and one was poached. 

“They will take unprotected livestock … A total of five lions in the study over the past 14 years have taken livestock,” Sikich said. “We have successfully worked with many landowners in the area to improve their husbandry practices with proper site design and hazing techniques.”

In addition to providing proper nighttime enclosures, he said the other proven solution to protecting livestock is using Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.

“[The act of] lions preying on unprotected livestock isn’t considered to be abnormal or aggressive behavior; it’s about a mountain lion being a mountain lion,” he continued. “Pretty much all large cats in a pen situation will kill all the animals in the pen.”  

This does not mean residents should be concerned for themselves or their children.

“There is no correlation between livestock killing and aggressive behavior towards people,” Sikich emphasized. “And killing a lion is not a long-term solution — younger, more inexperienced males will simply move in and compete for the space.

“There are millions of visitors in the Santa Monica Mountains every year, and there has never been an incident of a mountain lion attacking a human here,” Sikich said. “Clearly, they don’t look at us as prey.”