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Rat Poison is Killing the Wrong Animals

A baby bobcat is seen in a photograph taken by a motion-sensor camera in the Rosemont Preserve in La Crescenta on July 19. (Photo courtesy of Denis Calle

In January, the state of California reported that out of 68 mountain lions that were found dead in the wild between November 2015 and December 2016, all but four had traces of one or more anticoagulant poisons in their livers — the kind of poisons that people put out to kill rodents in their yards.

This summer, hikers discovered two dead foxes, with no wounds or other obvious reasons for death, in the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy’s Millard Canyon Preserve in Altadena. Another hiker observed a bobcat walking in circles, seemingly catatonic.

What do these events have in common? Rat poison. While we didn’t test the foxes, our biologist experts tell us that they, like the mountain lions, were likely victims of anticoagulant rodenticides.

The death of these foxes sends up a red flag for the danger of rat poisons to wildlife and pets.

Living on the edge of urban sprawl in Los Angeles inevitably means dealing with the wild creatures who have lived here for thousands of years before homes were built, including rodents. But using anticoagulant rodenticide to control the rat and mouse population around homes can expose pets and local wildlife to this deadly poison.

This is because rodents that consume this poison don’t die immediately. A poisoned rodent carries the toxin in its body for up to 10 days before dying. A poisoned rodent may be slow and confused and have difficulty breathing. Anticoagulant rodent bait interferes with blood clotting, ultimately leading to spontaneous, uncontrolled bleeding and death.

As the poison slows the rodent down, your dog or cat — or the wild predators that surround us — might have an easier time catching and eating it. If your pet eats a rodent that has consumed poison, it will be poisoned too. It might have seizures and lose consciousness. Your pet might have difficulty breathing and, without treatment, die.

Long-term, animals that survive rodenticide poisoning have suppressed immune systems, making them susceptible to mange and other diseases. A predator that eats one poisoned rate might not be killed, but its health will suffer. Some of the mountain lions in the study mentioned above had as many as six different kinds of anticoagulant rodenticide in their bodies.

And, of course, everything we’ve said about cats and dogs applies to our wild predators and scavengers such as foxes, bobcats, skunks, raccoons, hawks, owls, coyotes and mountain lions.

After all, they appreciate an easy meal, too! In this way, the rodenticide poison harms more animals than just rats or mice. And it is a gruesome way to die.

P-22, the “Hollywood sign” mountain lion, was a victim of rodenticide back in 2014. The National Park Service tested P-22 when it captured him for a routine collar check and discovered he had mange caused by ingesting rodenticide. They could treat him and he survived, but a female mountain lion, P-34, was not so lucky. P-34 was found dead in Point Mugu State Park in 2015, and testing found that she died from rodent poison.

There are many things you can do to discourage rodents around your house. Many of these recommendations serve double duty, reducing fire hazards, too. Keep a secure lid on your trash, remove debris and thick vegetation from around your home, never feed your pet or leave pet food outside, secure compost piles, remove dense ivy and lush groundcovers that rodents like, and close holes that allow rodents to get into your house, attic and garage. (Steel wool can be inserted into spaces around vents and hoses to prevent rodents chewing a way in.)

If you do have rodents, you can use snap or electric traps to catch them. If you hire a professional, ask him not to use rodenticide. Insist that the company use integrated pest management and sustainable methods that don’t involve anticoagulant poisons, and follow up to be sure.

Even though four anticoagulant rodenticides have been restricted by the state of California since July 1, 2014 — allowed to be used only by certified pest applicators — the poisons are still finding their way into the food chain, killing wildlife and even pets. Sadly, homeowners can still buy these deadly poisons online.

Without natural predators, rodents thrive. Using rat poison is actually counterproductive, as it kills the very predators that keep the rodent population in check. We learned to our sorrow this summer the price of using rat poiso — those two beautiful foxes, dead in Millard Canyon, maybe even the same foxes that we had filmed mating earlier in the year. What a high price to pay for the easy convenience of rat poison.

To learn more about the effects of rodenticide and how to avoid rodent problems around your home, visit the National Park Service information page at


AFC Spotlight - Denis Callet

Before Denis started capturing images of the mountain lions and other wildlife on AFC properties he focused mainly on long lens photography.  He captured incredible images of birds of prey such as owls and hawks, along with this stunning osprey.

Denis had a few trail cams in the San Rafael’s capturing coyote and bobcat, but noticed someone was capturing amazing footage of lions in the Verdugo Mountains.  So he built his own trap, first with small point and shoot cameras and later with high resolution DSLRs.  Soon he captured the first picture of the lion we now know as P41 and the first color picture of a female in the Verdugos.

The someone he met photographing in the Verdugos was Johanna Turner, another tracker/photographer who helps monitor movement on AFC properties.  Thanks to Denis and Johanna, AFC has photographic evidence of the wild inhabitants who have a safe place to live thanks to our conservation efforts.

Denis is a perfectionist and is constantly trying new cameras, flashes and locations.  If you ask him, he’ll say “The reason I continue to build and set camera traps is the quest to get the perfect shot and to see the evolution of the species in the Verdugos.”  Denis loves trapping in the Verdugo Mountains, but thinks there is much more to learn about what he refers to as “an island of forest.”

Denis is most proud of his capture of P41 (uncollared) and a female mating, “Pretty lucky” he says…pretty skillful we say!  According to Jeff Sikich of the National Park Service, it is pretty rare to capture lions mating on film.  Photos and location information from Denis and Johanna helped Jeff and his team collar P-41.  Denis still updates the NPS and is building cameras for AFC to use across the Hahamongna to Tujunga Wildlife Corridor.

 Be sure to take a look at the fantastic images on Denis’ website: as well as in the photo gallery on AFC’s website

Thank you Denis, for all you do to help AFC!

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