Cougar Killed on 405 Was Part of Long-Term Study

Cougar Killed on 405 Part of Long-Term Study

The young male hit by a car Tuesday near Getty Center Drive may have been on a journey to claim his own territory, a wildlife official who had been tracking him says.

The young mountain lion that was killed early Tuesday while trying to cross the 405 Freeway near Getty Center Drive was one of a small group in the Santa Monica Mountains being tracked by wildlife officials.

The 15-month-old lion, called P-18 by researchers, was part of a litter of kittens born in the Santa Monica Mountains and had been tagged with radio telemetry equipment. “We have been studying these lions for the past 10 years,” said Woody Smeck, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

According to Officer Ed Jacobs of the California Highway Patrol, “It looks like they hit [the cat] and kept on trucking. It’s pretty rare. … I don’t think I have ever heard of one [being hit] there.”

A few months ago, the lion left his mother’s range within Malibu Creek State Park and began moving through the mountains.

“He was moving east,” Smeck said. “He may have been trying to leave the territory of another dominant male in the area.”

Male lions need a large area to roam, Smeck said. In fact, in the whole Santa Monica Mountains range there have been only two males tagged throughout the course of research. As the males mature, they often seek out space away from other dominant males and “many get killed by dominant males,” he said.

“The fact that they even exist here is remarkable,” Smeck said. “It is a testament to the conservation efforts to save open space.”

P-18 had been tracked since he was 3 weeks old, according to the SMMNRA. The organization also said that scientists with the National Park Service have been studying the local lion population since 2002 and previous tracking records indicate that it’s common for individual males to roam the entire range of the Santa Monica Mountains, stretching from Camarillo to the 405 freeway.

In the last decade, 21 mountain lions have been fitted with GPS collars and tracked utilizing radio telemetry, including P-18’s father, P-12, according to a release by the SMMNRA. P-12 made the only known successful crossing of a freeway, the 101, in 2009 and has since resided in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Smeck estimates that in the past eight years, there have been about a half dozen mountain lions killed while attempting to cross freeways and interstates to travel outside the domain of the Santa Monica Mountains. In the past three years, he said there have been two documented cases of lions killed near the area where P-18 was struck.

Manmade structures and roads, especially freeways, are known to impede the migrations and movements of a variety of wildlife, presenting barriers that inhibit the ability of mountain lions and other animals to breed and maintain genetic diversity.

Caltrans and a number of organizations are working collaboratively to construct wildlife crossings that would allow animals the crucial ability to travel between different areas of protected parkland in the Santa Susana Mountains and Los Padres National Forest, according to a release from the SMMNRA. Freeways being considered for such projects include the 101, the 118 and the 405.

“Investing in connected pieces of parkland and constructing wildlife crossings along major freeways around Los Angeles is essential for long term mountain lion survival in the Santa Monica Mountains,” Smeck said in the release. “Mountain lions must be able to move freely between large parklands with suitable habitat throughout the course of their daily movements, as well as exchange genetic material to prevent inbreeding in specific parkland areas like the Santa Monica Mountains.”

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