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Mountain lion shot, killed after prowling Santa Monica shopping mall

Santa Monica Police Department / Reuters

A mountain lion cornered in an small courtyard in Santa Monica, California on Tuesday. The young male adult, presumed to be from the Santa Monica mountains ventured The Promenade outdoor mall where he was spotted by maintenance staff early in the morning. Police shot and killed the animal after failing to subdue it with tranquilizers.

A mountain lion that scientists believe to be one of perhaps just a dozen left in the Santa Monica mountains was shot and killed by authorities after it appeared in a high-end shopping mall in Santa Monica on Tuesday morning, an official with the California Department of Fish and Game told msnbc.com.

Authorities initially tried but failed to subdue the cat, a 3-year old male weighing about 80 pounds that apparently wandered into the city overnight.

"This was an unprecedented event," Fish and Game Department spokesman Andrew Hughan said of the lion’s appearance in central Santa Monica. "We do have lion in urban areas, but they are usually small towns. Never anything like this that anyone can recall."

A maintenance worker at The Promenade spotted the large cat around 6:00 a.m. PT as cleaners were preparing the outdoor mall for opening and reported it to police, who in turn informed Fish and Game wardens.

A warden and first responders from the police and fire departments converged on the mall and found the animal in a u-shaped courtyard," said Hughan.

"It was trapped in a little enclosed area," he said. "What wildlife will do is lie down like they do in the woods, trying to hide."

After setting up a perimeter, police shot the animal with a tranquilizer dart, with the intent of removing it and returning it to its natural habitat, Hughan said. Before the tranquilizer could take effect, they tried to keep the agitated animal trapped using "pepper balls" and fire hoses.

A news release from the Santa Monica Police Department said: "The mountain lion made several attempts to escape the courtyard and enter the public area. Regrettably, police were forced to use lethal force to prevent that animal from escaping the courtyard and endangering the public."

An officer killed the mountain lion with a single shot, a move that had the full support of Fish and Game, said Hughan.

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"This was an absolute last resort. No one at Fish and Game wants to destroy an animal, especially a mountain lion," he said.

The far-ranging mountain lion population is under severe stress due to habitat loss and poaching, scientists say.

For a decade, the National Park Service has been tracking mountain lions in southern California, including the 275-square miles of the Santa Monica range, which is hemmed in by highways, urban areas, the ocean and agricultural land.

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That island of habitat is large enough to support 10 to 15 mountain lions, according to Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the project.

Young adult males are forced to set out to establish their own territory, or reckon with a dominant male in the area, he said.

"Most young adult males we have followed in the Santa Monica mountains have ended up getting killed on a freeway or by an adult male in that territory," Sikich said.

The park service is conducting genetic tests to determine whether the mountain lion killed on Tuesday is a part of the tiny Santa Monica population, which Sikich says is likely.

"This is regrettable," said Tim Dunbar, executive director of the nonprofit conservation group Mountain Lion Foundation. "By having this poor lion die now … that will put even more pressure on the survivability of the species down there."

Dunbar said the Sacramento-based foundation had dispatched staff to Santa Monica to investigate the animal’s death, but did not yet have an opinion about the decision to use lethal force.

"Part of the problem is that the tranquilizers for the animals act a little slower if the animal is agitated," said Dunbar. "From reports I’ve heard, this animal was highly agitated."

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