(Reuters) - A mountain lion that wandered into a Southern California shopping mall parking lot on Friday was shot with a tranquilizer dart but died as state wildlife officers sought to transport it to the wilderness, authorities said.
The incident marked the latest encounter between humans and mountain lions in Southern California, where the cats are under growing pressure from urban sprawl that has left them increasingly isolated in fragmented territories.
Authorities were summoned when the 100-pound (45-kg) male cougar was spotted walking near a Macy's loading dock at the Promenade mall in Temecula, some 50 miles (80 km) north of San Diego, at about 5 a.m. on Friday, said Captain Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Typically officers seek to return tranquilized animals to the wild, Foy said, but the cougar in this case died for unknown reasons after being placed in the back of a truck for transport.
He said a necropsy would be conducted on the cat to determine the cause of death, if possible, adding: "We do our very best to minimize chances of harm but sometimes things go wrong."
Foy said the incident was at least the third time in the past year that a mountain lion has meandered into a crowded city center, for reasons that are not fully understood.
A study by University of California, Davis scientists published last fall found that the cats are part of a shrinking gene pool, with their territories growing more isolated from one another by urban development and highways.