YUMA - State wildlife officials killed a mountain lion north of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge that had been preying on endangered desert bighorn sheep for several months.
Arizona Game and Fish Department officials said the young male lion was found with two freshly killed bighorns and a mule deer when it was killed on Sunday.
The cougar was killed as part of an effort to prevent the further decline of the bighorn sheep population, which is at a historic low.
"When added to two other known bighorn sheep kills on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge during the past three months, these dead sheep would equal the entire annual recruitment of yearling sheep that we would expect to be produced by 25 ewes," Larry Voyles, regional supervisor for Game and Fish, said in a statement.
Lions that kill more than two sheep in a six-month period are a significant threat to the already seriously declining bighorn sheep herd, according to Game and Fish.
A survey taken in November showed the bighorn sheep herd on the Kofa refuge had fallen to an estimated 390 animals, a drastic drop from estimated 812 sheep counted in 2000.
"Given the declining status of the bighorn population on the Kofa, it cannot withstand the level of predation that this particular lion was exerting on the herd," Voyles said.
Kofa refuge officials are considering allowing lion hunts but are under a court order to do an analysis of its effects before making a decision.
The lion killed Sunday had been tracked since February.
The Kofa herd once was one of the most robust in the nation and has been used to repopulate other areas of Arizona and southwestern United States mountain ranges for 50 years.
Sheep transplants from the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge were suspended this year due to the severe population decline.