Deaths of California Mountain Lions Spell Trouble for the Struggling Species
Tragedy has struck California’s mountain lions once again, with three deaths in as many weeks highlighting how difficult it is for the big cats to survive in an urban national park.
Three young mountain lions have been found dead in the Santa Monica Mountains over the past few weeks, according to a press release on Friday from the National Park Service. The most recent death was a young female called P-34. She was found dead on Sept. 30. Although she had minor wounds, likely from a fight with another cougar, she appears to have died from ingesting rat poison.
A 2012 study from the National Park Service found that 11 out of 12 mountain lions tested positive for exposure to rat poison, with two dying as a result. The majority of coyotes and bobcats tested were also infected.
What’s rat poison doing in a national park? It likely worked its way up the food chain. When rodents consume the blood-thinning poison set out by humans, they don’t necessarily die right away. Often they first slow down and become easy prey for larger animals, which can then also become sick or die. When the poison doesn’t directly kill the mountain lions, they become more susceptible to diseases such as mange.
Poison isn’t the only problem for these mountain lions. The Pacific Ocean and roadways have left the big cats boxed into the Santa Monica Mountains, resulting in heightened intraspecies conflict. Last month, the National Park Service found two dead three-month-old kittens, P-43 and a previously unknown sibling. Another animal, possibly a mountain lion, killed them. P-34’s sibling P-32 died in August after traversing four highways to get out of the Santa Monica Mountains to develop a range free from other male cats. He was struck and killed by a car when attempting to traverse a fifth freeway.
“If you’re a mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains, this is just not an easy place to grow up,” Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist for the National Park Service, said in the release. “From our roads to rat poisons to potentially increased interactions with other mountains lions, it is very difficult for young animals to make it to adulthood, establish their own home range and reproduce.”
Mountain lions are essential to maintaining the ecosystem. Top predators, they feast on herbivores and thereby indirectly influence vegetation growth. They also eat coyotes, helping maintain a balanced ecosystem in California.
Park officials are working on a wildlife crossing for the mountain lions over the 101 freeway. As for ingesting rat poison, the National Park Service advises humans to stop using poisons that contain anticoagulants or find an alternative way to control pests.