Museum’s new mountain lion makes history

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

Museum’s new mountain lion makes historyEver hear of an animal making legislative history — after its death? The Maturango Museum’s new mountain lion exhibit has already made its mark.

Our story begins in October 2008. The big cat in question had been hit by a motor vehicle and did not survive the collision. Ryan Young, a biologist in Wrightwood, Calif., came across the recently deceased animal.

He called Camille Anderson, then the Maturango Museum’s natural history curator, asking if she would be interested in the lion’s remains. The museum accepts selected dead wild animals under a salvage permit to prepare them for educational purposes. (Anderson emphasized that the museum already has excellent specimens of most local species.)

Anderson arranged to drive halfway to Wrightwood and accept the animal. Time was of the essence because the big cat’s remains would soon start to decay if they were not preserved in some way.

The California Department of Fish and Game had to approve the transfer, as “it is unlawful to take, injure, possess, transport, import, or sell any mountain lion or any part or product thereof.”

Anderson brought the animal back to the museum ,and several strong men helped her unload it from her car into the large freezer kept by the museum for storing salvaged animals.

The next day, a DFG warden came to look at the mountain lion and tagged it. Apparently there had been a complaint about the procedures used by biologist who gave the lion to the museum. The DFG warden began an investigation, and cleared the museum of any wrongdoing because Anderson had followed proper procedures by contacting DFG.

By December 2008 the investigation was complete, and DFG instructed Anderson to contact the person in charge of permitting to get permission to have the lion taxidermied. Over the next two and a half years, she sent numerous e-mails and made numerous phone calls to no avail. There seemed to be a conflict over interpretations of the original law, Proposition 117, the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990.

During this time, Taxidermist Mike Dorner of Oak Creek Taxidermy in Tehachapi was also trying to get DFG to resolve the matter — and he had contacted the office of Sen. Jean Fuller to ask for help. Meanwhile, the frozen lion was in danger of deteriorating.

Finally, on April 6, 2011, the museum received a call from Fuller’s aide, Todd Moffit, who said Fuller had decided that new legislation was needed that would allow educational entities to possess dead mountain lions.

Fuller’s office then wrote legislation amending the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990, and she introduced SB 769.

DFG then called Anderson, telling her that the museum could keep the mountain lion for a few more months while the bill was wending its way through the legislature. SB 769 passed both houses without a single dissenting vote and was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 30, 2011.

“This presumably important bill earned overwhelming support by both Republicans and Democrats,” the governor commented. “If only that same energetic bipartisan spirit could be applied to creating clean energy jobs and ending tax laws that send jobs out of state.”

That comment got the attention of the Sacramento Bee and several other newspapers around the state, with the press relishing the topic of the governor and the big cat.

After passage of the law, a relieved Anderson took the animal to Tehachapi, where Dorner was only too happy to do the taxidermy.

A protective display enclosure is in process. During the museum’s 50th anniversary celebration the lion will be on display, with a museum employee standing by to keep viewers from touching the cat.

After a four-year saga, the mountain lion will be available for everyone to visit. The saga hasn’t quite yet had its happy ending, since (even with a generous discount from Dorner) expenses connected with putting up the new exhibit amount to around $6,000.

The museum is now gratefully accepting donations to help “feed the kitty.” To contribute send a check to the Maturango Museum with “Mountain Lion Exhibit” written in the memo line.

Your contribution would of course be tax-deductible eto the full extent allowed by law but perhaps even more satisfying would be your participation in making a gorgeous specimen of a native species available for everyone to see.

In the wild, these big cats are extremely shy, and few people ever get a chance to see a live one up close and live to tell the tale!

Story First Published: 2012-10-03