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Alpaca Rancher Says She Wants P-45 Relocated Not Killed

P-45. (Courtesy of the National Park Service)
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On Saturday, a mountain lion killed 10 alpacas on Victoria Vaughn-Perling's ranch on Mulholland Highway in Malibu Canyon. The rancher was then issued a 10-day "depredation permit" that allows her to hire someone to kill the animal, who's believed to be a mountain lion named P-45.

At a National Park Service community meeting on Wednesday night, a representative for Vaughn-Perling clarified the rancher's intentions, saying that she would prefer to have the mountain lion captured and relocated, according to City News Service. Attorney Reid Breitman, who's representing Vaughn-Perling, said that the Wildlife Waystation up in Lake View Terrace is prepared to accept the animal.

"I understand that there is a lot of opposition to that," Breitman said at the meeting, which was attended by more than 300 people. "Some people even think it's better to have it dead than relocated, some people have actually said that, and we think it's horrible."

The act of relocating P-45, however, is not easily done. For one thing, the permit issued to Vaughn-Perling only allows her to have the animal killed, Breitman told LAist. The rancher does not have the ability to have it captured; she and her attorneys have put in a request with the Department of Fish and Wildlife to amend the permit so that she'll be allowed to have it relocated. Breitman says that, as they wait on word from the department, his client has disengaged from attempting to have the mountain lion killed. "We've stood down, and we've had the hunter stand down. We don't plan on re-engaging this at the moment," said Breitman.

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There's also the issue of the permit time-limit—the days are running out. But Breitman notes that, even if the permit isn't amended right away, the action will still be useful because he believes that it won't be long until another rancher in the area has livestock killed by P-45. "If it can't be captured within the next four or five days, at least [the department] will be prepared to issue a capture-and-relocate permit next time. And hopefully the next person will be open to a less drastic measure," said Breitman. He added that P-45 has been very prominent and "aggressive," saying that Vaughn-Perling and her neighbors believe he is responsible for the deaths of 65 owned-animals in the area in the past eight months.

Martine Colette, founder of Wildlife Waystation, confirmed to LAist that the sanctuary is prepared to accept P-45 if he is captured. "We would prefer the lion to be free and in the wild. However, we also prefer it to be in human captivity rather than dead," said Colette. She says that the sanctuary currently has about a dozen mountain lions on the premises.

On Wednesday's meeting, Park Service biologist Seth Riley showed satellite data from P-45 and other mountain lions to support his claim that the animals avoid people and ranches. He added that, in a dozen years of study, there have been no attacks on people.

The issue extends beyond the livelihood of P-45, too. Wildlife experts believe that mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains are endangered because their environment is closed off by the highways and the sea. Without the ability to roam, they are suffering from a low genetic diversity, which is a big threat to the overall health of the species. In August, the National Parks Service, UCLA, UC Davis, and Utah State University released a research paper that says there's a 99.7% chance that the Santa Monica mountain lions will go extinct is measures aren't taken within the next 50 years to boost their genetic diversity. As such, the removal of P-45, whether by death or relocation to a sanctuary, could have a negative impact on the survival of the species, say some wildlife experts.

"Since he's one of only three males in the Santa Monica mountains west of the 405, losing one is significant," Kate Kuykendall, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, told LAist in a message. She said that "preliminary DNA results suggest he may be from outside the Santa Monicas" and that "he wouldn't be able to continue or contribute new or different genetic material if [he's] in captivity."

Breitman says that Vaughn-Perling is meeting with wildlife experts on Thursday morning to discuss other ways of safeguarding her ranch against mountain lions. He adds that, while Vaughn-Perling's preference is to have P-45 relocated, she still has yet to make a decision on what she'll do with the remaining days on her permit. "She actually never wanted to kill it. She was surprised when she was advised that she could kill it and not capture it. But she was willing to have it killed and protect her family and animals, as a last alternative," said Breitman. He added that her decision could be based on today's meeting with experts, and "if her fear can be managed sufficiently" by new information provided.

A petition that opposes the hunting and killing of P-45 has gone up online. Thus far there are over 700 signatures. At another meeting on Wednesday night, a gathering of elected officials and animal rights activists spoke out against the potential killing of P-45. In a statement issued before the event, L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz said that, "Killing a mountain lion which has killed unprotected livestock is not a solution. We must do better to educate our residents about mountain lion-proof enclosures and to employ best practices to manage these wild animals, who are also our neighbors." The event, held at the National Park Service’s Paramount Ranch, was attended by members of Social Compassion In Legislation, Mountain Lion Foundation, World Animal News, Project Coyote and JaneUnchained.

Judie Mancuso (left) of Social Compassion In Legislation speaking before the crowd at a Wednesday conference. (Photo courtesy of Social Compassion In Legislation)
Update [1:20]:

County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl released a statement saying that she is in contact with Vaughn-Perling and will be working with the rancher in ensuring that P-45 will not be killed. Kuehl adds that she looks "forward to assisting other property owners in utilizing the most effective enclosures to protect both their livestock and our precious wildlife." An email from Kuehl's office said that Vaughn-Perling, with the help from the office and the National Wildlife Foundation, will be putting up "enclosures" to protect her livestock. The message added that "P45 will continue to roam free in the Santa Monica Mountains."

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