By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES, Sept 11 (Reuters) - A man employed as a livestock keeper for a Jewish university campus near Los Angeles has been charged with illegally killing a protected mountain lion and vandalizing its government tracking collar, a prosecutor said on Wednesday.
The death represents the latest setback to a Southern California population of mountain lions already under stress from urban sprawl and crisscrossing highways that have fragmented their natural habitat in surrounding mountains.
The animal slain by the man charged on Tuesday was a mountain lion known to wildlife biologists as P-38, a male about 7 years old believed to have sired four litters of cubs, said Karen Wold, senior deputy district attorney of Ventura County.
National Park Service personnel who received a signal from the animal's tracking collar indicating it had died found its carcass on July 10 on the grounds of the American Jewish University campus in Simi Valley, about 50 miles (80km) northwest of Los Angeles, Wold said.
The cat had been shot to death eight days earlier, and the damaged collar, which was found near the animal's body, had been cut off its neck, she said.
Wolder declined to discuss a possible motive for the killing. But she said an investigation led to a suspect identified as Alfredo Gonzalez, 60, who works for the university as an animal keeper tending to goats and other livestock on the campus in the foothills of the Santa Susana Mountains.
She said Gonzalez was sent a notice on Tuesday ordering him to appear on Oct. 9 for arraignment on two misdemeanor charges - the unlawful taking of a state-protected mammal and vandalism.
It was not immediately known if Gonzalez had obtained legal representation, and he could not be reached for comment. The university could not immediately be reached.
Mountain lions, also called cougars or pumas, are not listed as endangered in California but are protected under a 1990 regulation making it unlawful to kill them without a special state permit.
Among a population of cougars faced with increasing isolation from one another, and thus declining genetic diversity, the premature loss of any individual can be consequential, wildlife officials say.
At least three other breeding-age male mountain lions in the greater Los Angeles region are known to have died over the past year, the most recent of which was killed by traffic while trying to cross a busy freeway on Saturday, officials said.
The other two are suspected of falling victim to a wildfire in November 2018. (Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)
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