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A radio-collared mountain lion has become the first to be killed in the Santa Monica Mountains under a state law that permits lethal action against any cougar that injures or fatally attacks pets and livestock, officials said Monday.

P-56 is seen in a photo on the National Park Service's website.
P-56 is seen in a photo on the National Park Service’s website.

The big cat known as P-56 was suspected of killing a dozen livestock on nine separate occasions at a single property, prompting the owner to request and obtain a depredation permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, according to a statement from the National Park Service.

Authorities did not provide a location of where the incident took place, saying only that the 4- to 5-year-old male’s territory was in the western part of the expansive range, south of the 101 Freeway.

He was one of 80 mountain lions that have been caught and collared since 2002 as part of a landmark study of the species in the fragmented sprawl of Los Angeles County.

In California, mountain lions are designated as a “specially protected mammal,” and hunting the big cats has been outlawed since 1990, the Park Service’s statement said.

But there is an exception: mountain lions can be killed for harming pets or livestock, provided the property owner obtains a depredation permit from CDFW.

To help protect cougars in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains, where the population is isolated and at risk, the department implemented a “three-strike” policy about two years ago. In those areas, a lethal permit is only issued after the landowner has tried non-lethal means to deter the mountain lion from killing or injuring additional livestock. (A full list of measures recommended by CDFW can be found here.) 

P-56 was suspected of killing 12 animals over a period of two years on the one property, according to the statement.

In the incident that led to P-56’s death, the property owner tried a number of measures to deter the big cat from killing more livestock, including bringing as many livestock inside as possible and penning the rest close to the barn and houses. The individual also utilized trained guard dogs, hot-wire fencing, motion-activated lights and auditory hazing.

NPS officials noted the landowner took the extensive measures despite the fact that the livestock killing occurred outside the boundary of the area where the three-strikes policy is in effect.

P-56 was killed on Jan. 27.

First captured in the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains in April 2017, the young male was believed to be the brother of P-55, who was found in the same spot days earlier.

P-55 would go on to become the first known mountain lion to cross the 101 Freeway twice, but he was found dead in the summer of 2018 — possibly the result of ingesting rat poison, officials said at the time. He had no known offspring.

P-56, meanwhile, is the suspected father of a litter of four kittens born in July 2018.

His death is concerning, given that he was one of only two known adult male pumas in the mountain range.

“The loss of a breeding male is a concern for the study, especially when the population is already very small,” Jeff Sikich, the lead field biologist for the study, said in the statement.

But, he noted, “There are always animals out there that are not being tracked.”