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Griffith Park Mountain Lion Suffering From Rat Poison, Scientists Say

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National Park Service biologist Joanne Moriarty takes a skin scraping from P-22 to test for mange | Photo: Santa Monica Mountains NRA/Flickr/Creative Commons License

A much-celebrated Los Angeles puma whose image graced the pages of a national magazine last year is suffering serious health effects from exposure to rat poison, according to biologists working with the National Park Service.

P-22, the Griffith Park puma who gained worldwide fame last year when his photo with the Hollywood Sign appeared in National Geographic, is suffering a bad case of mange, likely as a result of eating prey that contained commonly available rat poisons.

Though National Park Service biologists treated P-22 for his mange, his prognosis is uncertain. In 12 years of study, only two other pumas in the Santa Monica Mountains have developed mange. Both of those cats ultimately died of rodenticide poisoning.

P-22 was captured in late March so that biologists could replace the battery in the GPS collar that allows them to track his movements. That's when they noted the case of mange, a parasitic disease that causes scarring and fur loss. Blood samples sent to the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab at UC Davis revealed that P-22 had ingested meat containing the anticoagulant rat poisons diphenadione and chlorophacinone, which kill their target animals through blood loss and dehydration.

Though not much is known about the effects of mange in mountain lions, it's reasonably well established that bobcats exposed to anticoagulant rat poisons suffer a much greater likelihood of contracting mange. The mechanism by which the poisons increase the risk of mange isn't known.

Mange greatly interferes with the chances of its victims' survival: it can interfere with hunting, rest, and temperature regulation. P-22 was treated in March with Selamectin, a commonly used veterinary treatment for mange and other parasites. But it's not certain what the big cat's chances are for recovery.

Though the California Department of Pesticide Regulation last month proposed a ban on some retail formulations of anticoagulant rat poisons, the rule wouldn't affect the poisons found in P-22's blood.

"Anti-coagulant rodenticides are designed to kill rodents by thinning the blood and preventing clotting," said Dr. Seth Riley, an urban wildlife expert at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. "When people put these bait traps outside their homes or businesses, they may not realize that the poison works its way up the food chain, becoming more lethal as the dose accumulates in larger animals."

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How rat poisons harm wildlife. | Infographic: Santa Monica Mountains NRA/Flickr/Creative Commons License

For now, scientists say P-22 is still hunting deer successfully in Griffith Park. Here's hoping he can still do so in the years to come.

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