Rat Poison Could Be Making the Already Difficult Life of SoCal Wildcats Even Harder

Researchers know little about a potential link between rat poisons and mange, but one thing is clear: when wild cats who have somehow ingested rat poison get mange, it's severe. 

On Feb. 10, P-53 the mountain lion was captured and re-released after researchers discovered through remote cameras that she could be infected with mange.

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area officials tracked down and captured the 3.5-year-old cat to perform blood tests, a health check-up and treat the mange.

Mange is a parasitic mite found in rodents, coyotes and large wild cats.

Wildlife researchers are discovering rat poisons and toxins may play a larger role in the animal's survival, who are already struggling to survive in a region humans have been changing around them. 

Researchers from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and UCLA are urging residents to be cautious of spreading rat poisons around their properties.

The mountain lion's food chain typically goes like this: If a rat consumes the poison and the rat is eaten by a coyote, then a mountain lion could consume the coyote, swallowing the rat poison along with it.


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After wildlife officials treated P-53 for an hour, she was let go. Her blood samples have been sent to a state laboratory for evaluation to determine if she did indeed consume rat toxins, Kate Kuykendall said. 

Researchers plan to share the results following the month-long laboratory tests.

The blood test results will help add to the much needed research efforts being conducted to determine how anticoagulant rodenticide found in the mountain lion habitat could increase the chances of animals contracting mange.

Wildlife researchers say they are concerned that mountain lions could suffer the same fate as bobcats, who have died because of mange.

"We know there is an association," Kuykendall said. "Bobcat studies show those that tested positive for consuming toxins have more chance to develop mange."

Few mountain lions have been found with mange, which has made it all the more difficult to see how that breed of cats handles the parasite. 

Kuykendall said that since 2002, five cases of mange have been discovered in mountain lions. The first two mountain lions, P-3 and P-4, were found dead. They appeared to have had contracted mange, but it was determined they died from internal bleeding after consuming rat poisons.

In a third case, a Griffith Park mountain lion, P-22, was treated for mange and made a full recovery.

In the fourth, P-33 was also treated for mange. P-33 was later found dead for other reasons but the body could not be recovered. Researchers were never afforded the opportunity to run tests for a mange-rat poison link.

Seventeen out of 18 mountain lions have tested positive to one or more anticoagulant compounds in their systems.

Mountain lions are not considered endangered, but they are considered a species of special concern, Kuykendall said.

In Santa Monica, the mountain lion population is vulnerable due to low genetic diversity. Essentially, they're trapped on an urban island consisting of freeways and bordered off by the Pacific Ocean, making it difficult -- and almost impossible -- to find a mate from a different family. 

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