Shooting of local cougar raises questions regarding population stability

Photo of P-39, the slain mountain lion, in Simi Valley.

By: Andrew de Koeyer | Writer

September 20, 2019

On July 10th, the National Park Service went to recover the body of P-38, a protected mountain lion, from the campus of the American Jewish University. A few days earlier, the National Park Service received a mortality alert from the collar of P-38, which are placed on all protected mountain lions. What the autopsy determined was highly concerning. The Department of Fish and Wildlife concluded that P-38 died due to a single fatal gunshot to the head. It was also noted that the $2300 tracking collar was removed from the cat. 

This disturbing news comes after a series of blows to the fragile population. Increased development in Southern California and habitat fragmentation has had a clear toll on their numbers. Unlike other large mammals, mountain lions, also known as cougars, are much less equipped to cross major roads, and are often struck and killed by oncoming vehicles. Only a few instances have been recorded of Southern California Mountain Lions crossing major roadways. The total Southern California population is estimated to be just around 30 individuals.

Mr. Gonzalez, the suspected shooter, has his first court date set for September 23. The individual has been charged with misdemeanor killing of an adult mountain lion which, if convicted, would yield a $10,000 fine, and up to a year in jail. The defense team claims that Mr. Gonzalez shot the cat in fear that it might attack the children that live in the area. Additionally, the defendant is being charged with grand theft for the removal of the monitoring collar, which if charged as a felony, could lead to another three years of jail time. 

“It is super sad to hear about the ignorance of some people. Members of the community need to be educated on the importance of the species and remember that we are living in their territory,” San Clemente High School senior and environmental advocate Zach Meyler said.

The upsetting death of the cougar is another hit to the already declining population of Southern California Mountain Lions. Researchers at UC Davis concluded in a recent study that the extirpation of this species could occur in as little as fifty years. The I-15 and 101 freeways have played a major role in isolating the two populations of cougars in the area. These roadways have created a physical barrier between the two groups and in turn lead to a lack of genetic diversity, forcing the species into residential areas and busy roads.

This is prompting many organizations to create solutions to help guarantee a future of this animal. “#SAVELACOUGARS” is a major organization that is raising money to create a wildlife bridge that would pass over the 101 freeway and would connect the two populations. This would lead to an increase in genetic diversity and would decrease the chance of cougars wandering into residential areas. Regardless, significant steps must be taken in order to help protect the future of this unique and remarkable species.

About adekoeyer 12 Articles
Andrew de Koeyer is a senior at San Clemente high school and big advocate for the outdoors. He loves hiking, camping, and spending time with friends in his free time.

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