Wildlife officials investigate mountain lion shooting deaths

State fish and game officials are investigating the recent deaths of two mountain lions in Orange and San Diego counties. Investigators believe both of the big cats died by gunshot.

It's illegal to shoot mountain lions in California unless they're taking livestock or threatening people with immediate harm. Officials from the Department of Fish and Game have offered few details about the latest deaths.

People found the remains of one mountain lion near an orchard in Murrieta, in San Diego County. Her two 3-month-old kittens are at large. Rangers are considering picking them up because young kittens lack the skills to survive a crowded and increasingly urban landscape.

Another mountain lion died in Trabuco Canyon. That animal was one of 51 mountain lions collared in a 9-year-old scientific study. Researchers are interested in how a dwindling number of big cats share territory in a challenging landscape. Twenty-seven of those animals are now dead, struck by cars, shot, or killed in some other way. Most of those deaths are connected to contact with humans.