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Rat Poison Could Be Linked To Skin Disease In Santa Monica Mountain Lions

SANTA MONICA (CBSLA) – Researchers are trying to determine whether a case of skin disease last month in a female mountain lion who lives in the Santa Monica Mountains is linked to rat poison.

On Feb. 10, National Park Service (NPS) biologists recaptured P-53, a 3 ½ year old mountain lion who lives in the Santa Monica Mountains, and outfitted her with a new GPS collar. When she was captured, P-53 was suffering from mange, a parasitic disease which infects the hair and skin.

Rat Poison Could Be Causing Skin Disease In Santa Monica Mountain Lions
P-53, a 3 ½ year old mountain lion who lives in the Santa Monica Mountains, had contracted the skin disease mange when she was captured by National Park Service biologists on Feb. 10, 2019. (NPS)

She was given flea treatments and released back into the wild, where she will continued to be monitored, the NPS said. Researchers are awaiting results from blood tests to determine if she was exposed to rat poison.

According to NPS, mange is rare among mountain lions. Since 2002, only five mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains have contracted mange. Two of them, P-3 and P-4, died of rat poisoning.

"It's concerning to see this mange in a mountain lion, because it generally means that the animal is compromised in some other way such as having been exposed to toxicants," NPS ecologist Seth Riley said in a statement. "We are hopeful the treatment will be successful and that we can monitor P-53's recovery through remote camera images."

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Beginning in 2002, however, there has been a mange epizootic among bobcats that has caused a serious decline in their population in the Santa Monica Mountains. Research has shown that bobcats who ingest rat poison are likely to contract severe mange.

The possible connection between rat poison and mange "is still not fully understood," NPS said in its news release.

In October of 2017, a roughly 10-year-old male mountain lion known as P-41 was found dead near the Verdugo Mountains. Researchers were unable to determine his cause of death, but said he had several rat poisons in his system.

There are currently about 12 mountain lions who wear radio collars which are tracked by NPS rangers. The region's freeway network and shrinking habitat has served to isolate the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains. Eighteen mountain lions have been killed on a freeway or road in the area since 2002, according to the NPS.

Caltrans has proposed building a wildlife bridge across the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills that would allow animals to travel between the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills.

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