The young male puma that was shot and killed near the 3rd Street Promenade last month had genetic roots to a lion colony known to roam far from Santa Monica. The lion's DNA is not found among the lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, the National Park Service said Wednesday. The lion shot last month seems instead to be genetically linked to a population that patrols the rugged hills on the north side of the U.S. 101 freeway.
This discovery — that the lion was local, but not of the same gene pool as the Santa Monica Mountains cats &mash; was seen as good news by the park service scientists who study the pumas. It suggests mixing is happening, or at least could happen. The finding is "a rare bright spot for a group of animals that is suffering from an extreme lack of genetic diversity," says a National Park Service blog.
“The biggest threat to mountain lions in this region is the loss and fragmentation of their habitat because of past and current urbanization,” said Dr. Seth Riley, an expert on urban wildlife with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). “Over the long-term, isolation of a small population of large carnivores such as mountain lions can result in inbreeding, reduced genetic diversity and even significant genetic defects.”
Because the Santa Monica lion is genetically linked to lion populations north of the 101 Freeway, biologists speculate he may be the son of Puma 12, known as P-12. P-12 is the only mountain lion documented to successfully cross the 101 Freeway, thereby contributing new genetic material to the isolated lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains. Alternatively, the Santa Monica lion may have himself crossed the freeway. In either case, the lion could have contributed unique genetic diversity to the genetically homogenous population in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Lions from the Santa Monica Mountains are hemmed in by the 101 and 405 freeways, making the lack of genetic diversity a serious threat to their long-term survival. Biologists from SMMNRA, a unit of the National Park Service, are currently tracking five mountain lions as part of a decade-long study to better understand how the animals survive in such an urbanized landscape. The study has already documented cases of “first order” inbreeding in which a father lion mated with his offspring.
P-12 crossed the freeway near Agoura Hills in 2009. The DNA finding does not offer any new insight into why the lion wandered into a busy part of downtown Santa Monica. He was shot after attempts to contain and tranquilize the car didn't work.
Previously on LA Observed