Three Mountain Lion Kittens Killed Trying to Cross the Road in Southern California

from Wildlife Promise

2-12-2014 10-53-44 AM

Mountain lion kitten born in the Santa Monica Mountains (photo National Park Service).

In my blog posts, I try to focus on the good news stories for wildlife as there are certainly enough examples of the bad. Yet today I felt compelled to report on the recent deaths of three mountain lion kittens in Southern California as it demonstrates the urgent need for providing safe passages for wildlife through urban corridors.

In 2012, I discovered the remarkable story of P22, the mountain lion who miraculously crossed two major freeways in Los Angeles to reach his new home of Griffith Park, a green oasis in the middle of the city that represents a mere one-tenth of an average cougar habitat. National Geographic featured a story about the plight of P22, along with wildlife photographer Steve Winter’s incredible photos of the mountain lion with the Hollywood sign in the background, which captured the imagination of people around the world.

P22′s tale is awe-inspiring. But the real story behind the scenery (so to speak) is that P22 shouldn’t be living in an urban park two miles from Hollywood Boulevard in the first place. When mountain lions come of age, they need to disperse into new territory, unoccupied by another male cat. P22’s options were severely limited because of the network of freeways acting as a barrier to more abundant green space. Instead of having to trek across the 405 and the 101, through the neighborhoods of Bel Air and Beverly Hills in desperate search of a home, he should have been heading to the much greener pastures up north.

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A juvenile mountain lion roaming in the Santa Monica Mountains (photo by National Park Service)

And P22 is one of the lucky ones. During the National Park Service’s 12-year study in the Santa Monica Mountains and surrounding habitat, a total of 13 mountain lions have been struck and killed by vehicles. Many are young cats, like P18, a healthy kitten who grew up in the Santa Monica Mountains, yet was killed as a young adult while trying to cross the 405 near the Getty Center in search of a home.

Most recently, on January 20, a kitten estimated to be only a few months old was killed on Kanan Dume Road in Malibu. On January 31, two mountain lion kittens estimated to be 10 months old were killed on the 126 Freeway in northwest L.A. County, an area that is an important habitat connection for the Santa Monica Mountains.

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One of the three kittens recently killed in the Santa Monica Mountains area (photo National Park Service)

The survival of P22, indeed the survival of all the cats in the Santa Monica Mountains, largely depends on one factor: connectivity. Translated into non-biology terms: they need to get across freeways and roads from one natural area to another. The Superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains, David Szymanski, started a public briefing about P22 reinforcing the need for vital linkages: “If the lion didn’t exist as a poster child of the importance of connectivity of open space, we would have to invent him.”

“Roads are a challenge not only because mountain lions keep getting hit and killed by cars, but also because major roads such as freeways lead to reduced genetic diversity and also higher rates of lion-on-lion conflict,” said Dr. Seth Riley, an urban wildlife expert at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “If we want to keep mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, we need a better system of wildlife crossings.”

National Park Service researchers believe that building a safe wildlife crossing near the Liberty Canyon exit along the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills is critical for reducing the impacts of the area’s extensive road network. Together with Caltrans, the Resource Conservation District and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, they are working on a study to analyze a range of solutions, including a tunnel and an overpass. Known as a project study report, it is a critical first step for the project, but the major obstacle remains the estimated $10M price tag.

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National Park Service biologist Jeff Sikich giving NWF staff a tour of the proposed wildlife crossing site at Liberty Canyon along the 101. (photo Beth Pratt)

P22’s story inspired me to take on the campaign to build the needed wildlife crossing as part of my work with the National Wildlife Federation. The recent death of these kittens simply hardens my resolve.

The National Wildlife Federation in California and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund are helping to support the important research of the National Park Service, the United States Geological Survey and others to help build this  vital wildlife crossing across the 101 Freeway to give mountain lions and other animals room to roam.

For more information about the project email NWF’s California Director, Beth Pratt at prattb@nwf.org or consider making a donation to support this important work.

Follow NWF California on Facebook for more great wildlife stories and photos from across the Golden State!