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Mountain Lion Shot and Killed in Santa Monica Had Unique DNA, Was Not An Exotic Pet

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Photo: Courtesy Santa Monica Police Department
Photo: Courtesy Santa Monica Police Department

The mountain lion that wandered into downtown Santa Monica and was fatally shot last month was a young male genetically linked to a local population and was not an exotic pet, officials with the National Park Service announced today. DNA results from the Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA showed the animal possessed genetic material from a population north of the 101 Freeway.

"He did have genetic material that we generally don't find in the Santa Monica Mountains," said Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with the National Park Service who tracks the local population of mountain lions. "That made him, in some ways, especially valuable."

Valuable because human development -- freeways and urban centers -- has nearly trapped the mountain lion population living in the Santa Monica Mountains, leading to the possibility of inbreeding, reduced genetic diversity, and genetic defects, all which threaten the long-term survival of the population, explained Riley. Since killed lion found had traits of a population north of the 101 Freeway, perhaps from the Simi Hills or Santa Susana Mountains, that contributed the genetic pool of the local population. One theory is that the lion was the son of P-12, who successfully crossed the 101 Freeway near Agoura Hills in 2009.

The young male cat was seen just before 6 a.m. on Arizona Avenue on Tuesday, May 22. A janitor spotted the animal in the courtyard of an office building who fled to call for help when it apparently approached. The 90-pound cat was later unsuccessfully shot with tranquilizer darts and became aggressive and tried to leave the courtyard, according to California's Department of Fish and Game. The animal was eventually shot and killed amid concerns for public safety by the Santa Monica Police Department.

It may seem very unusual that a mountain lion would roam into development areas, but sometimes they end on a freeway or in development areas. That is likely linked to the fact the Santa Monica Mountains aren't big enough for large carnivores like mountain lions, who require substantial space -- from 50 to 150 square miles.

"We don't know exactly what was happening but it could be that this young male was trying to find his own place to go," said Riley, who is also an adjunct professor at UCLA. "Once they become independent of their mother they start going off on their own."

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