MALIBU, Calif. — A Malibu rancher who got a permit to shoot a mountain lion believed to have killed her 10 pet alpacas said Thursday she never planned on having the cougar killed and hopes that it is relocated instead.
Victoria Vaughn-Perling made the declaration after a storm of protest erupted over the possibility that the male lion named P-45 would be killed. One of her neighbors had said he would use her permit to shoot the lion if he saw it but would not actively hunt it.
Vaughn-Perling last weekend found her alpacas dead and part of one eaten at her ranch in the rugged Santa Monica Mountains above Malibu's coast, and said on Monday she had obtained a 10-day permit to shoot the mountain lion.
A small number of the big cats live in the mountain range despite many threats to their survival — and hundreds of people inundated wildlife officials with complaints after learning P-45 might be killed.
What was supposed to be a workshop Wednesday night for residents to learn how to protect their livestock was all but hijacked by animal activists who shouted out in anger.
"It's sickening that this animal is going to be executed," one person wrote on the Facebook page of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Another wrote: "So they're going to kill a lion for being a lion. Ridiculous and shameful."
Vaughn-Perling, who had planned to attend the community meeting before she became afraid of getting death threats, told The Associated Press she tried various strategies to protect her alpacas from P-45 following previous attacks, including adding motion lights and electrified fencing.
"It seems to enjoy the slaughter," she said. "This animal will attack a child or a bicyclist or a hiker because it's so comfortable with the slaughter."
Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist for the National Park Service, said neither P-45 nor the 52 other mountain lions studied by the agency in the region since 2002 have ever attacked a human and there's no evidence that they would.
He added that the cat's killing of 10 alpacas in one night and eating only part of one isn't aberrant behavior.
"An animal gets into an enclosed space with a bunch of vulnerable prey animals that aren't that smart or good at escape and they keep going after them until they aren't moving around anymore," Riley said.
P-45 is just one of three breeding males during the entire 14 years the animals have been studied in the region and it's important to the species that he stay, Riley said.
He and animal rights advocates said livestock can be kept safe if they're in a roofed enclosure and that there's no need to interfere with P-45's behavior.
Vaughn-Perling said she installed a roof on her alpaca enclosure after last weekend's attack.
Her attorney, Reid Breitman, told residents and activists at Wednesday's community meeting that Vaughn-Perling asked the Department of Fish and Wildlife to change her permit to allow P-45 to be safely captured and relocated to an animal sanctuary.
That generated boos from the crowd, with some yelling that putting a wild animal in captivity still isn't fair.
Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman for Fish and Wildlife, said California state law doesn't allow for the permit to be altered and that it's "a permit to kill a lion which is otherwise protected under state law."
"Captivity is not a very good option for a wild animal, nor is relocation," she said. "
Riley rejected the idea of moving P-45 to other wild land.
"There's not some lion Shangri-La where we can put the lions," he said. "From our perspective it's a pretty simple solution; if you have livestock in natural areas you need to protect them from the wildlife."
Wendell Phillips, a neighbor of Vaughn-Perling, said he obtained his own permit to kill P-45 in March after some of his alpacas were attacked and that he shot at the cat back then and grazed it. His permit is now expired but he had volunteered to use hers to shoot P-45 if he saw it.
Phillips said P-45 is believed to have killed more than 50 animals in the area in the last year and that the issue became personal for many when one woman's service animal, a miniature horse named Marco Polo, was killed last month.