Even if the young mountain lion had lived to be released back into local mountains, chances are good that he would have met the same fate, according to Jeff Sikich, a National Parks Service biologist who is studying the animals
"It would have been an uphill battle," he said.
Nearly every one of the handful of mountain lions of the same age tracked by the park service since 2002 in the Santa Monica Mountains has died while trying to establish his own home range, Sikich said.
When their cubs reach the age of 1-2, mother lions abandon them to start breeding again, and the younglings start testing their boundaries, but highways and urban development restrict their movement.
In most cases, the younglings are killed in attacks with older, solitary males that have already established territories spanning 200 square miles. In other cases, the young adults are struck by cars while crossing the 101 Freeway, Sikich said.
At any given time, the Santa Monica Mountains, can hold only 10 to 15 mountain lions.
"They're really looking for a way out," he said. "Every lion is important because we have such a small population."
Parks service biologists have attached GPS collars to 22 lions since 2002, when they started studying whether mountain lions could continue to make the local mountains their home. They've often seen the animals turn around when they stumble upon densely developed areas and freeways, so Sikich surmises the was lost.
A janitor called 911 after he found the cat, prompting a response by Santa Monica police and state Department of Fish and Game wardens. Officers fired one tranquilizer dart, which did little to subdue the animal. Instead it became agitated and tried to flee—that's when officers fired as many as three shots from their guns and , according to police Sgt. Richard Lewis.
"It’s a tragedy," said Cindy Reyes, executive director of the California Wildlife Center. "We need to start thinking proactively about how to protect the population and the habitat so things like this don’t become more frequent."
Weighing between 75 and 100 pounds, the cat's body was first transported to Reyes' facility in Calabasas for a necropsy but was moved to a State Department of Fish and Game facility in San Bernardino, where a variety of tests could be run more quickly.
Sikich expects results next week from hair and tissue samples he collected and sent to a lab at UCLA. He wants to determine whether it was related to other lions he's tracked in the Santa Monica Mountains, where there's a lack genetic diversity because the mountain lions have a hard time traveling out of the area and are inbreeding.
Of the 22 mountain lions that have been radio-collared, only one has successfuly managed to cross the 101 freeway—that cat introduced new genetic material into the population, Sikich. He said the parks service wants to build a $10 million wildlife corridor across the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon so more mountain lions can traverse safely.
"It gives us hope," Sikich said.