Elisabeth Torres, Global Animal 

A month after a mountain lion was killed by police in Santa Monica, CA, the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) sat down with local experts to develop new policies for similar sitautions. The focus group of experts included City Hall Representatives, the California Department of Fish and Game, the National Park Service, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA), In Defense of Animals (IDA), and local veterinarians. 

The mountain lion shot to death by SMPD. Photo Credit: AP

The group discussed the importance of public safety, risks involved with wild animal capture, and formulated a plan to prevent the killing of wildlife in emergency situations. Jack Carone, communications director for IDA, was hopeful the ideas discussed would be carried out, despite a few technicalities. “The law is that the Department of Fish and Game is the only one that is allowed to tranquilize a mountain lion,” Carone said to the Santa Monica Daily Press. “There are just a lot of technicalities, but hopefully that can all be worked out and agencies can take advantage of local experts.”

Police Sgt Richard Lewis seemed less hopeful, stating in the Los Angeles Times, “The only thing law enforcement can do with a mountain lion is kill it.” Lewis said the law would have to be changed to allow other experts to tranquilize mountain lions, and that “such a change would be unlikely.”

Despite the challenges with tranquilization, the SMPD has committed to develop a notification system of local experts in animal capture and training for first response personnel when similar incidents with wildlife occur. They will acquire the appropriate equipment and tools needed for capture, and most importantly, support efforts to achieve a long-term solution for reducing the chances of wildlife entering urban areas. 

One of the long-term solutions discussed was creating a wildlife tunnel crossing near U.S. Route 101. Mountain lions are being squeezed out of their habitat by urban development but can’t get to other forest areas without directly crossing freeways or through neighborhoods. The tunnel was estimated to be a $10-million dollar project that the Department of Transportation agreed to reapply for a grant for next year. It would greatly decrease the amount of mountain lions that wander into urban areas, and the ability to roam freely would genetically diversify their population and help sustain the species. 

Madeline Bernstein, president of the spcaLA, put it best when she said, “It is safe for wildlife to cross and it is safe for people as well, it expands their habitat; they don’t want to be in urban areas, they want to be in their natural habitat.” Interactions with wild animals are inevitable and if the SMPD truly does follow through with these polices, it could provide a positive example for other cities to follow as well.