The network of busy Los Angeles area freeways continue to take a toll on the scattered population of mountain lions that call the region home, nearly wiping out an entire family over the span of two months, federal officials reported Friday.
An eight-month-old female mountain lion, dubbed P-51, was struck and killed Jan. 19 by a vehicle on State Route 118, north of Los Angeles in Simi Valley, the National Park Service said. Her sibling, P-52, and mother, P-39, were struck and killed on the same freeway in December.
That the big cats have been able to cross traffic-heavy freeways to get to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has earned them local celebrity status, especially as each new litter of kittens is photographed and documented by wildlife researchers.
P-51 and her family had been among the newest additions to the scene after field photos of the kittens were published by wildlife officials.
But the mortal dangers of passing vehicles and the introduction of rodenticides in the food chain have taken a heavy toll on region's mountain lion population. P-51 is the 17th known case of a mountain lion killed on a roadway in the National Park Service study area in and around the Santa Monica Mountains since 2002, officials reported Friday.
“Unfortunately, this case illustrates the challenges for mountain lions in the region, where roads are both major barriers to movement and potential sources of mortality,” Seth Riley, wildlife ecologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said in a statement.
Despite the fact that more mountain lion deaths have occurred on the Simi Valley stretch of State Route 118, the section of 101 Freeway on the northern edge of the Santa Monica Mountains is considered more of a long-term threat because it's seen as less permeable, prompting the big cats to try the 118 more often.
A tunnel for equestrian use and hikers is located near where the mountain lion deaths occurred, but the area lacks adequate fencing to direct wildlife to the undercrossing, the NPS said.
The roadway deaths spurred plans to build a wildlife corridor along the 101 Freeway, to open up safe access wildlife between the Santa Monica Mountains and large natural areas to the north. Doing so could be an important part of saving the overall population, which researchers have warned could disappear in a matter of decades if new blood isn’t added to the gene pool and reproduction rates aren’t maintained.
A private fundraising effort to help pay for the project, which is being drafted by the California Department of Transportation, has already been launched.