Mountain lion P-15, shown in a photo taken by remote camera, had been tracked for nearly two years by National Park Service scientists. It was killed and mutilated by poachers, officials said. (photo by National Park Service)

SM MOUNTAINS — State fish and game wardens say a mountain lion found dead in the western Santa Monica Mountains was killed and mutilated by poachers and they are seeking tips in the case.

The 7-year-old lion, named P-15, was one of the last remaining male mountain lions in a wildlife study being conducted by the National Park Service. His body was found Sept. 11 after officials received a call from someone who had found a mountain lion carcass in a canyon between Cal State Channel Islands and Newbury Park in Ventura County. His tracking collar had been removed and the animal mutilated to the point that researchers had to use DNA to positively identify him.

“This is a significant blow to the mountain lion research study,” said wildlife ecologist Seth Riley. “There are not a lot of mountain lions left in the Santa Monica Mountains, and each one plays an important role in the overall local survival of the mountain lion population.”

The National Park Service believes there are at least seven other mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains.

California Department of Fish and Game and the National Park Service are asking for the public’s help in locating the suspected poachers.

Due to the condition of the animal and the amount of time that passed before officials found it, there was no forensic evidence at the scene, said Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for fish and game.

“What we’re hoping is that someone sitting around a campfire or is drinking at a bar starts bragging about how they killed a mountain lion and someone will call us,” he said. “The hunting community is pretty tight knit.”

Those with information can make an anonymous tip by calling (800) 334-2258.

P-15 was first captured in Point Mugu State Park in November of 2009. He was fitted with a GPS collar and researchers tracked him all over the Santa Monica Mountain range.

NPS biologists devote considerable time and resources to capturing and fitting mountain lions with collars; it may take several weeks for a successful operation and the loss of even one lion is a setback to the research on wildlife movement and the importance of habitat connectivity.

P-15’s death comes on the heels of another mountain lion death, P-18, who was killed while attempting to cross Interstate 405 in late August.

Mountain lions are designated as a “specially protected species” in California, and it is illegal to hunt or trap them.

Given their large spatial and prey requirements, mountain lions and other large carnivores are a strong indicator of ecological health for an area, Riley said.

The National Park Service began studying mountain lions at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in 2002. A total of 21 mountain lions have been tracked via radio telemetry and GPS collars in that time. In addition to studying mountain lion movement, a genetics study is also ongoing to discover indications of possible inbreeding among the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains.

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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