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Mountain lion killed in downtown Santa Monica

Police shot and killed a mountain lion that somehow made its way through an urban landscape before it was found early Tuesday in a downtown Santa Monica office building courtyard near an outdoor mall and a bluff-top park that offers tourists views of the ocean and the city's famed pier.

Authorities made multiple attempts to try and subdue the young male cat, including use of a tranquilizer and a pepper ball, before killing it, said Capt. Daniel Sforza of the state Fish and Game Department.

The mountain lion was found about 6 a.m. by a janitor in the courtyard near a popular open-air mall, the Third Street Promenade, and just a couple of blocks from the beach. The street that has a preschool, a church and other businesses was cordoned off as a precaution.

"It's not a risk we can take with public safety," said police Lt. Robert Almada.

It wasn't immediately known how the cat ended up in the middle of the city. The National Park Service has been monitoring mountain lions with GPS radio-collars and cameras more than two miles away in the Santa Monica Mountains.

A typical home range for mountain lions is around 200 square miles for adult males, said the agency that has been conducting a study since 2002 in the Santa Monica Mountains to determine how urbanization is affecting the large cats.

Jeff Sikich, a biologist working on the long-term study for the National Park Service, said a mountain lion had never been seen in the area where the cougar was found.

There are currently about 10 mountain lions in the Santa Monica range but the lion killed in the city was not among those previously known, he said.

Sikich said that by age 1 1-2 lions disperse from their mothers and try to establish their own territories, which are so large that one adult male could claim the entire Santa Monica range.

Young lions, however, are trapped within the range because it is bordered by freeways to the north and east, the ocean to the south and an agricultural plain to the west. Dispersing young males that encounter urban areas usually turn around, and those found dead have either been hit by cars or killed by an adult male defending its territory, Sikich said

"Large carnivores need a lot of space," he said.

Sforza said a necropsy will be performed to see if the mountain lion had rabies or any other diseases.

"It's very unusual," Sforza said of finding the mountain lion. "It's just really hard to speculate."

Lorraine Miller, 89, said she was driving to her novels class, part of a college emeritus program for seniors, when she learned the mountain lion was in the building's courtyard where she was supposed to go.

"It seemed at first it was some kind of tall tale," said Miller, who has lived in Santa Monica for more than 40 years. "Then after a while you see all of this action. It was overwhelming."

Mountain lions are one of the most widespread carnivores in the world with a historical range from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, Chile. Hundreds of mountain lion sightings are reported every year in California, but attacks on humans are rare. Between 1890 and 2007, there have only been 16 attacks in the state, according to Fish and Game statistics.

Miller said she believes killing the mountain lion was the right, but unfortunate, option.

"In my opinion they were taking care of the public," Miller said. "Frankly you can't object to being taken care of."

Sikich, the biologist, said mountain lions are elusive and generally avoid people, but they are wild, unpredictable animals and this one was in an unnatural situation.

"It was a tough situation, especially for the lion, but also for everyone involved," he said.

Sikich, who arrived after the killing, took some of its hair for testing to determine if it is related to the other lions of the Santa Monica range, which lack genetic diversity because of their entrapment.

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AP writer John Antczak contributed to this report.

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