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At Agoura Hills Meeting, Debate Rages Over Mountain Lion Accused of Killing Rancher’s Animals

Hundreds turned out Wednesday night for what turned into a contentious community meeting in Agoura Hills held to discuss how Santa Monica Mountain residents can better coexist with the local mountain lion population.

Mountain lion P-45 is shown in an undated image released by the National Park Service.

Mountain lion P-45 is shown in an undated image released by the National Park Service.

The debate began when a Malibu property owner acquired a permit this week from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife that allows her to shoot and kill P-45, a mountain lion that lives in the Santa Monica Mountains and is believed to have killed several alpacas at her ranch on Saturday.

The move has drawn a passionate response from animal rights advocates, and wildlife experts say relocating or eliminating the cat would only invite more problems.

"You take it out of its home range, the first it’s going to do is it’s going to come back," Fish and Wildlife biologist Rebecca Barboza said. "If we take this mountain lion out of the system, there’s going to be another one waiting to take its place."

The Malibu property owner, Victoria Vaughn-Perling, was not in attendance but issued a statement just before the meeting stating she does not intend to use the permit, which allows her to kill P-45 within 10 days and within 10 miles of her property.

"I obtained the kill permit in order to save P-45's life," she said in the statement, noting a separate depredation permit was issued earlier this year to another landowner who shot and wounded the cat.  "It is only a matter of time when someone will get a kill permit, and successfully kill P-45."

Vaughn-Perling ultimately hopes P-45 is humanely captured and relocated to Wildlife WayStation, an animal sanctuary in Sylmar. She is holding a press conference at her house on Thursday to discuss the proposition.

Vaughn-Perling's lawyer, Reid Kreitman, did attend Wednesday night's meeting, and his statements were met with audible groans and protests from many in the audience.

"She has taken a lot of steps to try and avoid this over the last year. She’s lost 20 of her alpacas," Kreitman said. "She’s put radio speakers to have talk radio on all night long. She literally slept in her car so that she could honk the horn to scare the cat when it comes along."

But the activists in the room were unconvinced.

"We can’t treat animals as property," Jane Velez-Mitchell said. "We can’t kill them when they become inconvenient after we’ve invaded their home."

P-45 is one of only three adult male mountain lions in the Santa Monica range, according to the National Park Service. Researchers believe he is 4 or 5 years old and he weighed 150 pounds when first captured last December, making him the largest of the cats in the region.

The range is home to many female mountain lions as well, and some of these other cats are responsible for slayings in the area, according to Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area spokeswoman Kate Kuykendall.

"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 wrote in an emailed statement. "Nor is P-45's behavior abnormal or aberrant in any way, even if the number of animals killed is large. In a typical natural setting, animals flee from a mountain lion attack, but if animals are stuck in an unsecured pen, a mountain lion's natural response can be to prey upon all available animals."