A California mountain lion placed under a death sentence for killing nearly a dozen alpacas owned by a Malibu woman was granted a reprieve when the woman announced she wouldn't act on a state-issued permit giving her the right to kill the animal.
A neighbor had offered to shoot the big cat known as P-45 for Victoria Vaughn-Perling, but she told reporters it was never her intention to have the cougar killed. Instead, she said, she hoped game officials would capture it and get it away from her ranch.
She also indicated public outrage might have played a role in her decision, adding she was "surprised by the vitriol."
Vaughn-Perling had planned to attend a community meeting Wednesday to discuss the lion problem until she feared she would begin to get death threats. Pro-lion people shouted over park rangers, booed speakers and challenged one rancher to a fight.
"Remember those movies where they showed the mobs and it's all the townspeople and they're carrying torches and pitchforks and hoes and shovels and the person behind is bringing the rope with the hangman's noose? That's what it was like," area resident Mary Dee Rickards said. "She buckled under the pressure and frankly, I can't blame her."
It's not uncommon for ranchers to kill wild animals that threaten their livestock in rural areas, but the densely populated Los Angeles area's relationship with them is more complicated.
Much of the sprawling Santa Mountain range provides habitat and wild game for the free-ranging predators, but it also takes in such densely populated areas as Malibu, the Hollywood Hills and parts of the San Fernando Valley.
Another cougar known as P-22 became a celebrity of sorts after it was photographed standing by the Hollywood Sign in 2012 and more recently was coaxed safely out a homeowner's basement in the Hollywood Hills, where it had briefly taken up residence. The cougar, which has its own Facebook page, saw its image tarnished somewhat earlier this year, however, when it was blamed for killing a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo.
Another cougar wandered onto a high school campus in the San Fernando Valley in April before it was tranquilized and returned to the wild.
Animal lovers flooded the Facebook page of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area after the kill permit for P-45 was issued.
"It's sickening that this animal is going to be executed," one person wrote. Another wrote: "So they're going to kill a lion for being a lion. Ridiculous and shameful."
Malibu ranchers, including Rickard's husband, Wendell Phillips, don't think P-45's reprieve is indefinite. Phillips said he grazed the 150-pound animal in the head with a bullet in March after it attacked some of his alpacas.
"Any apex predator that comes on my property and attacks my animals or my family — I don't usually miss and I'm not going to miss twice," he said Thursday. "P-45 is going to kill and keep killing and we're going to have about one more multiple fatality and I think the ranchers are going to switch to a shoot-on-site policy."
It was last weekend that Vaughn-Perling said she found the cougar had killed 10 of her alpacas and eaten only one.
"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 the alpaca slaughter isn't unusual behavior for a cougar.
"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," he said.
He added that P-45, one of just three breeding males found during the 14 years the animals have been studied in the region, plays an important role in maintaining the species.
He said livestock can be kept safe if they're in a roofed enclosure. Vaughn-Perling said she installed a roof on her alpaca enclosure after last weekend's attack and is planning to sell all but five of the 15 remaining pets.
Her attorney, Reid Breitman, told Wednesday's community meeting that Vaughn-Perling wanted to modify her kill permit to allow the animal to be captured and removed, but Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said California law doesn't allow for the permit to be altered.
Neither capturing and incarcerating the animals or releasing them somewhere else is considered a solution, she said.
That being the case, Rickards said, P-45's days are likely numbered.
"Ultimately, I think P-45 is going to get shot by somebody," she said.