An animal activist holds a photograph of the mountain lion slain by police… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)
After meeting with animal welfare advocates over the killing of a mountain lion last month, the Santa Monica Police Department said it would consider changing procedures for handling wildlife incidents.
In a statement released last week, the department said it was committed to training first responders and to developing a list of local consulting experts. It said it would also seek appropriate equipment and tools and support ongoing efforts to reduce the likelihood that wildlife would enter densely populated urban areas. But the department added that state law limits what police officers, scientists or veterinarians can do to control the animals.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, July 03, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 95 words Type of Material: Correction
Mountain lion shot: An article in the July 2 LATExtra section about the Santa Monica Police Department's consideration of new wildlife procedures said police officers and firefighters tried to subdue a mountain lion with tranquilizing darts after the animal entered Santa Monica on May 22. It was a California Department of Fish and Game captain who fired the tranquilizing darts. After the lion became aggressive and tried to flee, a police officer shot and killed the lion. An article about the incident in the May 23 LATExtra section also should have clarified who fired darts.
"The only thing law enforcement can do with a mountain lion is kill it," said police Sgt. Richard Lewis. Under the law, which prohibits the hunting of mountain lions, the state Department of Fish and Game is responsible for tranquilizing mountain lions, also known as pumas. Lewis said the law would have to be changed to allow local veterinarians, animal control officers or others "closer to home" to tranquilize the animals. He added that such a change would be unlikely.
The suggestions for altering protocol for wildlife incidents grew out of a June 25 meeting the Police Department held with animal rights activists, veterinarians, national and state park representatives, and officials from the Department of Fish and Game.
"The group's participants readily acknowledged that, although public safety must be the primary consideration under such circumstances, the safe capture of wildlife is a valued response," Lewis wrote. He added that participants agreed successful captures were elusive "when wild animals are encountered in urban settings."
That was the case May 22, when a 3-year-old male mountain lion meandered into the heart of Santa Monica and came face to face with the janitor of an office complex. The man alerted authorities.
Police officers arrived just after 6 a.m. and found the 75-pound cat cornered in the courtyard of 1227 2nd St., a building that houses a yoga studio, a law firm and a college admissions office. Three game wardens and Santa Monica Fire Department personnel were called. Officials cleared the streets of most passersby and ordered the lockdown of a nearby preschool.
As news helicopters circled overhead, police officers and firefighters tried to subdue the feline with tranquilizing darts and pepper balls. When the agitated lion kept trying to escape, an officer finally shot and killed it, about four hours after the standoff began.
Authorities defended the killing, saying the lion had posed a threat to public safety. But animal rights activists contended that the cat could have been saved.
The lion was "young and lost," said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles.
Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the National Park Service, said the incident was unusual.
"In the past 10 years, that's the first time one has ended up that far into Santa Monica," said Sikich, who works in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
A mountain lion's home range can encompass 300 square miles, roughly the size of the Santa Monica Mountains area, Sikich said. Because some aggressive older males occupy the habitat, young lions try to extend their range. Some roam until they encounter a freeway and then turn around. But many others are killed by vehicles while trying to cross roads.
Sikich said the California Department of Transportation next year would reapply for a grant to build a wildlife corridor under the 101 Freeway near Liberty Canyon that would help lions migrate to new habitat without having to cross a busy highway. The $10-million project, he said, would keep them safe from vehicles and allow for greater genetic diversity that would in turn help sustain the species.
"We know the freeways are a major barrier to wildlife movement and survival," he said.