P-45 mountain lion faces the death penalty after alpaca slaughter, sparking protest

State officials have issued a permit to kill the mountain lion known as P-45 after the big cat was strongly suspected of slaughtering nearly a dozen alpacas and a goat at ranches in the Malibu hills.

But the possibility of the roughly 4-year-old male lion dying in a legally sanctioned hunt has sparked protest among some animal welfare groups, which call it unfair to punish the puma for acting on its instincts.

The Sacramento-based Mountain Lion Foundation said P-45 had evolved to stalk and pounce on wildlife but that fenced-in livestock and other domesticated animals posed a “mismatch” to the lion’s natural response.

“Once inside an enclosure, the prey have nowhere to run, and the cat's predatory instincts are triggered over and over until it has killed every animal in the pen,” the foundation said in a statement. “This isn't play or viciousness, it's about self-protection.”

The permit to hunt the puma was granted to the owner of a ranch off Mulholland Highway and Little Sycamore Canyon Road, where the lion killed 10 alpacas and injured two others Saturday night, said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. The second attack occurred Sunday night at a ranch about 2 miles away, where an alpaca and a goat were killed.

The so-called depradation permit gives the ranch owner 10 days to hire a hunter to find the animal and kill it, Hughan said. Typically, hunters use a deer carcass to lure a cougar and shoot it with a rifle. The permit is valid only within 10 miles of the ranch.

“The homeowner did everything she could to protect her wildlife,” said Hughan, noting that the animals were kept in a locked area with barbed wire and motion-sensing security lights. “This lion was very determined to get in there.”

P-45 dined on only one of the alpacas, leading wildlife officials to suspect he might return to feed later. The cat wears a radio location transmitter and has been linked to other attacks in the Malibu area.

In late November 2015, ranch managers at Malibu Family Wines discovered that P-45 had attacked one of several llamas in a pen shaded by oak trees at the 1,000-acre ranch. The lion returned a few days later and killed an alpaca. 

Owners at the ranch opted not to seek a permit, but Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, said he eventually captured the animal. P-45 was released deeper into the Santa Monica Mountains but returned to kill another llama in January, prompting the ranch to install lion-proof fencing.

Several mountain lions roam the roughly 275 square miles around the Santa Monica Mountains, an area with busy roadways, housing developments and commercial districts.

Anticipating criticism of the permit to have P-45 killed, Hughan called on the public to remember that a woman lost a significant part of her income as well as her pets.

“If your livestock is killed, you have the right to get this permit,” Hughan said. “This woman is obviously upset.”

Kate Kuykendall, a spokeswoman for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said the incident underscored the need to provide livestock and pets with sufficient enclosures.

State wildlife officials and the National Parks Service were jointly hosting a workshop Wednesday night in Agoura Hills to offer tips on protecting pets and farm animals from the local lion population.

“Eliminating P-45 does not solve the problem, especially given there are at least four mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains that have killed livestock over the past year,” Kuykendall said.

Last year, the state issued 265 permits to kill mountain lions that posed a threat to humans or livestock, resulting in 107 of the predators being taken.

Killing a mountain lion without a permit is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in county jail, a fine of up to $10,000 or both.

In March, the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens announced that one of its endangered koalas was apparently killed by a mountain lion known as P-22, who was born in the Santa Monica Mountains and crossed the 405 and 101 freeways to make Griffith Park his home in 2012.

Times staff writer Louis Sahagun contributed to this report.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno.


UPDATES:

Nov. 29, 10:30 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional details on the killing of the alpacas and comments from the Mountain Lion Foundation.

This article was originally published on Nov. 28 at 7:40 p.m.

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