Animal rights activists on Wednesday called for authorities to work with wildlife veterinarians when responding to confrontations with cougars, following the fatal shooting last week of a mountain lion in Santa Monica.
In Defense of Animals, an international animal protection organization based in Northern California, questioned why authorities killed the young animal rather than capturing it.
Alongside a wildlife vet and rehabilitator, representatives of the group said that public safety officials should call on civilian animal experts to respond to confrontations with mountain lions.
"Just as I would never be a police officer after a six-hour course on how to use a 9 mm (pistol), I don't think that police officers are going to be veterinarians after a half-day course on how to subdue wildlife," said Jennifer Conrad, a wildlife doctor and expert who lives in Santa Monica. "That's why it has to be that we work together."
On May 22, California Department of Fish and Game wardens responded to a report of a mountain lion in busy downtown Santa Monica – at 1227 Second St., between Wilshire Boulevard and Arizona Avenue (map).
They said they attempted to tranquilize the juvenile animal (pictured below at right) – also using pepper balls and fire hoses, in coordination with the Santa Monica police and fire departments.
But authorities said that when it tried to escape the courtyard where it was hiding, police shot the 80-pound male cougar dead.
"We deployed less-lethal pepper ball, we deployed fire hoses and the animal continued to charge in attempt to flee out of the courtyard,'' Santa Monica police Lt. Robert Almada said at the time. "Regrettably, the animal was euthanized in order to protect public safety.''
In Defense of Animals criticized the response. Its event Wednesday in front of Santa Monica City Hall brought together about 20 activists, some of whom held signs that read "tranquilize don't euthanize" and "stop the killing."
The group wants a strategy for handling future mountain-lion encounters without lethal force. Other animal rights groups have called for an investigation into the shooting.
"This is not a demonstration or a protest. ... It's a call to action," said In Defense of Animals Communications Director Jack Carone. "What we do want to happen is for this to never happen again. What we do want is for hindsight to truly be 20/20. We want to look at what happened and really learn from it."
It's still a mystery how and why the animal ventured from the Santa Monica Mountains into such a densely populated area about 2 miles away. Mountain lions are monitored by the National Park Service, but this young lion was not wearing a GPS radio collar.