It seems the local mountain lion population just can’t catch a break lately—if they’re not killed trying to cross the freeway, ingesting prey full of rat poison or getting burned in the wildfires, they die from getting shot in the head. 

A Simi Valley man has been charged in the fatal shooting of a protected mountain lion that was being studied by researchers, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office announced last week. Alfredo Gonzalez, 60, was charged with one misdemeanor count of killing the mountain lion known as P-38, as well as a misdemeanor for vandalism for removing its tracking collar. 

Mountain lions are protected mammals, and it is illegal to kill them without a depredation permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife—and last year, those permits became increasingly hard to obtain, after the state tightened its regulations on issuing them. 

On July 10, the National Park Service (NPS) received the first report of P-38’s death after a mortality signal was sent from its collar in Simi Valley on July 2, according to the district attorney’s office. NPS researchers found the body on July 10 on the grounds of the 2,200-acre American Jewish University campus, located about 18 miles directly north of Malibu. 

After an investigation headed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife was conducted, authorities determined P-38 died after being shot in the head eight days earlier. His tracking collar, worth an estimated $2,300, had been cut off and removed.

In a phone interview with TMT, Senior Deputy District Attorney Karen Wold of Ventura County confirmed that the tracking collar was found one to two miles away from P-38’s body, not next to the body as reported by some news outlets. 

Gonzalez’s first court date was originally scheduled for October, but has now been advanced to Monday, Sept. 23, at 9:00 in Courtroom 11 of Ventura Superior Court, Wold said in the interview. If convicted, Gonzalez could be sentenced to a year in jail and a $10,000 fine for killing the cougar. He might also have to pay $2,300 in restitution for vandalizing the collar.

Wold explained the misdemeanor charge for taking the radio collar might be upgraded to a felony charge because the collar was valued at $2,300, and theft of property over $950 constitutes grand theft under California law. As a misdemeanor, destroying the collar would carry a penalty of up to a year in jail, but as a felony theft charge, it could mean up to three years in jail.

Various news sources reported Gonzales lived on the campus of the Brandeis-Bardin campus of American Jewish University in Simi Valley and was employed as a livestock keeper there, tending to goats and other animals. ABC7 reported that he has since been terminated by the university.  

American Jewish University released a press statement since the incident, saying, “We have been fully cooperating with the Ventura District Attorney on this matter and are committed to working closely with the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, other relevant authorities and community partners to make sure AJU is prepared for any foreseeable situation involving wildlife in the future.”

Gonzales hired defense attorney Kevin Gres, who issued a statement on behalf of his client, saying, “While the loss of P-38 is saddening, the mountain lion was discovered at night actively hunting just yards from children attending a popular summer camp. Mr. Gonzalez’s brave and decisive actions that night saved lives. It is disappointing that local authorities fail to see the obvious, but we are confident the justice system will.”

P-38, one of the oldest Southern California mountain lions being studied by the NPS, was born in 2012 and collared in 2015. He dominated large areas of the Santa Susana Mountains between the Ventura (101) Freeway and State Route 118 and is believed to have fathered at least four different litters, including three kittens with P-39: P-50, P-51 and P-52, which were discovered in the eastern Santa Susana Mountains in July 2016.

The only other local mountain lion known to have been intentionally illegally killed by a human was P-15; the seven-year-old male mountain lion was killed by a poacher in the summer of 2011, according to NPS. His body was found by hikers in the western Santa Monica Mountains decapitated and with four severed paws. The killer was never found. 

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