A mountain lion found wandering in a mall parking lot in Riverside County early Friday died after it was shot with a tranquilizer dart by a game warden, state fish and wildlife officials said.
The mountain lion was found outside a Macy's department store in Temecula at the Promenade mall, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which dispatched wardens after being contacted about 6 a.m. by sheriff's deputies.
A game warden shot the mountain lion with a tranquilizer dart and moved it to the back of a pickup truck to be transported to a rural location, said Lt. Patrick Foy, a fish and game spokesman.
The lion was alive when it was placed in the back of the truck but died while being transported, he said.
"We don't know exactly what happened," Foy said. "Stress and drugs, a combination of the two, were probably a contributing factor. Unfortunately, there's a risk involved with these kind of animal captures."
Foy said that in his 18 years with the department, he has personally used the same sedation method to move two mountain lions, four bears and dozens of deer.
"What I've learned is that when no one's around and the lion or deer is stuck, you dart them and everything goes fine," Foy said. "When you're in the middle of a parking lot and there are lots of people around, and there are police lights, the animal is very stressed, and that's when these sorts of things happen."
The mountain lion was estimated to be about 125 pounds and between 18 months and 2 years old, Foy said.
The animal was not being aggressive when it was first spotted, but because it was in a heavily populated area near the 15 Freeway, it had to be moved for public safety, Foy said.
Typically, the animals are removed from densely-populated areas and taken to the "nearest suitable habitat," he said.
Foy said that although it is not common for mountain lions to appear in the middle of highly urbanized areas, they do show up a few times a year in the middle of cities. Mountain lions typically have a range of more than 100 square miles.
An necropsy will be performed on the mountain lion to determine the cause of death, officials said.