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10/19/2011

Orphaned Kitten May Soon Face the Same Fate as its Family

A five-month-old mountain lion kitten is wandering all alone near Susanville, California (about a hundred miles north-west of Lake Tahoe, just outside Lassen National Forest), and it's only a matter of time before it will be killed. The kitten was one of three liter mates; the other two and their mother were all killed in recent weeks by U.S. Wildlife Services and law enforcement officers. This kitten is not capable of hunting deer and as a result, may come close to town in search of an easy meal and be killed just like the rest of its family.

In August, residents near Lassen Community College reported seeing a mother lion with three kittens. The mom had killed a deer and dragged it into the shrubs to feed her growing family. She had not threatened people or tried to attack a domestic animal. She was being a good lion, eating deer in the forest. Mountain lion kittens stay with their mother for nearly two years. During this time they pick up all the skills they need to become elusive hunters, capable of avoiding people and taking down full grown deer. Unfortunately, some of the locals were fearful of their lion neighbors and the close proximity of the deer to a daycare center. The California Department of Fish & Game responded, along with Wildlife Services (the national agency that kills nuisance wildlife) who set a trap to catch the lion family. The mother and one kitten were trapped, then killed, under the pretext of "public safety."

Last month, residents reported seeing the two remaining siblings wandering near town. Still needing mom to provide all their meals, the two kittens were starving and desperately trying to get by on whatever food they could find. One of the cats stumbled upon a chicken coop. That now qualified him to be killed for "depredation" -- preying on a domestic animal. California Department of Fish & Game officials authorized the responding local highway patrol officer to shoot the cat.

Now there is just one kitten left. Due to being orphaned at such a young age, the odds are slim that this cat will learn to hunt deer, avoid people, and establish a territory of its own without being killed by an older lion. The more likely outcome is that it will return to town, looking for an easy meal and be shot. The town's fear of wildlife will ultimately wipe out this entire lion family.

It is hard to see how the mother lion posed an immediate threat to public safety that warranted her death. But we do know that by killing her, we may very well have sealed the fate of all her kittens. Tranquilizing this last kitten and finding it a permanent home in a captive setting like a zoo or sanctuary has not completely been ruled out. Because two of the three kittens were killed, many feel the California Department of Fish & Game will ultimately choose bullets over captive placement for the reaming lion, too. Hoping that doesn't happen, a few wildlife groups have stepped up and offered to not only give the cat a permanent home, but to make the trek to Susanville and help tranquilize and transport the kitten. One such group is the Animal Rescue Team Inc. of Solvang, California. Their Director, Julia Di Sieno, says she "will do whatever it takes to save this lion."

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