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Mountain lion survived deadly California fires. Rat poison likely killed him, rangers say

What do to if you meet a mountain lion

​​Mountain lions are generally calm, quiet, and elusive. People rarely get more than a brief glimpse of a mountain lion in the wild. Lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than a dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years.
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​​Mountain lions are generally calm, quiet, and elusive. People rarely get more than a brief glimpse of a mountain lion in the wild. Lion attacks on people are rare, with fewer than a dozen fatalities in North America in more than 100 years.

A mountain lion that survived the deadly wildfires that swept through Southern California last year has died — and rat poison that worked its way through the food chain is likely to blame, according to park rangers.

“It’s unfortunate to see an otherwise healthy mountain lion lost from what appears to be human causes,” said Seth Riley, wildlife ecologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, according to USA Today.

Biologists went looking for the 3-year-old mountain lion in the central Santa Monica Mountains on March 21 after its GPS collar sent out a mortality signal. Researchers discovered the animal’s dead body with no visible injuries, park rangers wrote in a Facebook post Tuesday.

“A necropsy revealed that he may have succumbed to poisoning from anticoagulant rodenticide, commonly known as rat poison,” Ranger Ana Beatriz wrote in the Facebook post. “Testing on a sample of his liver showed that he had been exposed to not just one, but SIX different anticoagulant compounds! Internal hemorrhaging was also found in his head and lungs.”

Beatriz wrote that researchers “believe mountain lions are exposed through secondary or tertiary poisoning, meaning that they eat an animal that ate the poisonous bait, such as a ground squirrel, or an animal that ate an animal that consumed the poisonous bait, such as a coyote.”

The mountain lion — which researchers have long studied and called P-47 — was marked when he was 4 weeks old and given a GPS tracker in January 2017 when he was just over a year old, according to rangers.

Researchers said they last caught P-47 in January 2018. He then weighed 150 pounds, which made him one of the biggest mountain lions the biologists in the region have studied.

P-47 was among a handful of mountain lions that researchers lost track of when the Woolsey fire burned through the Los Angeles area last November, McClatchy reported. It turned out that P-47 survived the blaze, though rangers said at least one mountain lion likely died in the fires, which ravaged significant portions of the mountains.

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Alongside Mumbai, Los Angeles is one of two places in the world where a megacity coexists with a population of big cats, according to the National Park Service.

But rat poison isn’t the only way humankind threatens the mountain lion population there. Poaching and road injuries are other causes of death, McClatchy reported last summer.

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Still, rangers said rat poison is an especially worrisome problem.

“Biologists have documented the presence of anticoagulant rodenticide compounds in 21 out of 22 local mountain lions that they have been tested, including in a three-month-old kitten,” Beatriz wrote. “Lab results for P-64, who died a few weeks after the Woolsey Fire, also found six different anticoagulant compounds in his liver.”

The death of P-47 also may have implications for the gene pool of the mountain lions in the area.

“In P-47’s case, it’s also a big loss because we don’t believe he had yet mated and passed along his genes, which would have been valuable since he had ancestry from north of the Santa Monicas,” said Riley, the wildlife ecologist, according to USA Today.

The Morgan family of Orange County was part of a 4-H club whose eight goats were killed in a mountain lion attack. They could have had the cougar killed, but they chose not to.

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