2 Mountain Lions Starve To Death After Being Relocated To Desert Edge

CALIFORNIA — Two mountain lions died of starvation after they were moved by state wildlife officials from the Sierra Nevada to the edge of the Mojave Desert, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“At the time, CDFW was exploring alternatives to killing lions right there on the spot,” Jordan Traverson, deputy director of communications, education and outreach for the department, said in an email. “We regret that these lions died in this manner, and we will learn from it.”

The males, referred to in state reports as L147 and L176, were relocated in 2021 as part of the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep Recovery Program after they preyed on and killed the endangered animals, said a 2020-21 report on the program from the department.

Find out what's happening in Across Californiawith free, real-time updates from Patch.

L147 was initially moved 130 miles north in January of 2021 to the Slinkard/Little Antelope Wildlife Area, but after he tried to return south to his former home range, he was recaptured in Bishop Creek and rereleased in February to the Mescal Range, 210 miles southeast, the report said. He started heading northwest back toward the Sierra Nevada but was discovered dead and emaciated a little over a month after officials moved him south, according to authorities.

A few days before L147’s remains were found, L176 was moved to the Mescal Range and began traveling home, but L176 was recaptured about five weeks after his initial release when he was found suffering from extreme emaciation on the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station, the report said. He was euthanized a week later, according to authorities.

Find out what's happening in Across Californiawith free, real-time updates from Patch.

“The decision to release L147 and L176 in the Mescal Range was primarily motivated by interest in gathering data on wildlife corridors crossing I-15, and more important and practical factors which should influence mountain lion release sites, such as prey availability and habitat familiarity, received less consideration,” the report said, noting both mountain lions used underpasses to cross Interstate 15.

“Consequently, both L147 and L176 struggled to find prey in an unfamiliar environment.”

In the 2021-22 report for the sheep recovery program, officials included additional information about the circumstances of the mountain lions’ deaths, noting the two were relocated “as an alternative to lethal removal.”

The area of the east Mojave where the mountain lions were moved had prey to the southeast but authorities’ hopes that the desert would serve as a barrier to prevent the lions’ return home proved lethally incorrect, according to the report.

“The fact is that CDFW manages for bighorn sheep and we manage for mountain lions,” Traverson said. “This part of the state shows a difficult overlap that underscores how incredibly challenging it is to manage for so many cherished species. Management decisions and the lessons learned (adaptive management) are the basis of science. It is never easy and it is certainly not perfect.”

Traverson noted that more mountain lions and bighorn sheep are coexisting recently, with the highest mountain lion counts ever in the past two years. The program that resulted in the relocation of the two male mountain lions is designed to bolster the numbers of the bighorn sheep, the population of which in 1995 had dwindled to just 100 in the Sierra Nevada. Mountain lions are among the main threats to the sheep population.

Click Here:

Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.