TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona wildlife officials say the number of mountain lion deaths in southern Arizona has made its largest decline in a single year.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department says killings of mountain lions by hunters have dropped 40 percent in 2014, compared to a 9 percent decline in 2013.

Officials say 12 lions died last year.

They believe the drop is partly due to the creation of the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, a bighorn sheep protected area.

Hound hunting of lions is banned within the 22,500-acre area, which was created in July 2013.

According to Game and Fish, lion killing in southern Arizona mountain ranges rose steadily from one in 1984 to the all-time high of 22 in 2012.