Last month, local mountain lion P-53, a three-and-a-half year-old female, was recaptured after researchers watching her on remote cameras saw she had mange—a skin disease caused by parasitic mites that sometimes causes death and is generally rare in wildcats.
Biologists treated her with a topical medication, fitted her with a GPS collar (her original collar had fallen off) and released her back into her home range, which is the central coastal area of the Santa Monica Mountains that includes most of Malibu. This was confirmed by text with Kate Kuykendall, acting deputy superintendent and public affairs officer for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA).
“It’s concerning to see this mange in a mountain lion, because it generally means the animal is compromised, perhaps from exposure to toxicants,” Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with SMMNRA and adjunct associate professor at UCLA, said in a press release. “We’re hopeful the treatment will be successful and that we can monitor P-53’s recovery through remote camera images.”
“Exposure to these toxic compounds can also lead to unchecked internal bleeding and death,” Riley noted. “This kind of poisoning was the second leading cause of death in our coyote study and continues to be a significant source of mortality and disease for bobcats and mountain lions.”
P-53 is the fifth mountain lion in the National Park Service’s study to be diagnosed with mange since 2002, when researchers began studying the Santa Monica Mountains population. The diagnosis has once again brought up the the issue of rat poison and how it affects all local wildlife in the food chain.
More is known about mange in bobcats, with previous NPS research finding a high correlation between ingested rodenticides and severe mange. Recent UCLA studies also documented significant immune system effects and widespread impact on genes.
Mountain lions with the poison in their system probably ingest it through prey, such as coyotes, which feed on rodents that have eaten rat poison placed around homes, businesses and shopping centers.
To learn more about the rat poison chain of death, visit samofund.org/the-chain-of-death.