They said he was a murderer.
He was a cold-blooded killer who left behind nearly sixty victims including goats, sheep, llamas, alpacas, a miniature horse, and even a 450-pound cow.
And unlike most of his brethren, he seldom ate much of what he captured. He didn’t kill to eat. He seemed to kill for sport.
Biologists celebrated the discovery of mountain lion they named P45 in the hills around Malibu. P45 is the rare immigrant into the Santa Monica Mountains, bringing with him desperately needed genetic diversity to the few remaining lions in our area.
To scientists, wildlife advocates, and park officials P45 was a prize and a ray of hope for the big cats. To the local ranchers, he was a deadly menace.
After nearly a dozen of her alpacas were slaughtered, Victoria Vaughn-Perling had enough and received permission to kill the young male mountain lion. (Mountain lions are protected within the state, however, they may be hunted with specially-granted permits.)
An executioner was hired and the hunt was on.
News of P45’s death sentence spread quickly across the country and created a public outrage.
In all fairness, it’s easy to understand Vaughn-Perling’s despair. Even the staunchest wildlife defender would not want to find one of her own animals bloodied and gutted on the ground.
P45’s killing spree is an anomaly.
As one of the planet’s most successful predators, mountain lions are silent, invisible hunters. They are the ghosts of the canyons. Mountain lions are almost never seen by humans, yet they are watching us all the time.
Truth is, people have little to fear. The cats feed almost exclusively on the local mule deer. They rarely bother with smaller animals and human interaction is nearly non-existent.
The Santa Monica mountain lions first captured public attention when National Geographic photographer, Steve Winter, captured a stunning night time photo of a young male named P22 under the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park.
It was discovered that P22 made a heart-stopping journey from Topanga Canyon crossing both the 405 and the 101 freeways to end up in Griffith Park. It was a miraculous feat.
Like all urban wildlife, mountain lions are under severe pressure from human development. Habitat is disappearing every day and criss-crossing freeways make it impossible for an apex predator like mountain lions to exist in their natural territory.
In a change of heart, and likely bowing to public pressure, Vaughn-Perling granted P45 a reprieve and called off the hunt.
But the conflict between humans and nature remains.
National Wildlife Federation California Director Beth Pratt-Berstrom recently wrote a book about how we can co-exist with our urban wildlife, When Mountain Lions Are Our Neighbors. It’s a hopeful and even joyous book with stories of people and wildlife adapting to living together. You can read our review of her book here.
Better yet, come to Skylight Books this Friday, March 24th and hear Beth herself tell the tales of P22, the Facebook foxes, and Sutro Sam, San Francisco’s river otter. Her talk begins at 7:30pm.
1818 N. Vermont Avenue
Los Feliz, 90027