National Park Service biologists affixed tracking devices recently on male and female kittens born to one of the adult female lions already being tracked through the mountain range. The newborns, believed to be six to eight weeks old, are now designated P-23 and P-24. They were found in the mother's den near Circle X Ranch above Malibu and were released back into the wild.
Unfortunately, DNA testing conducted at UCLA found that the cubs were fathered by P-12, who also was the sire of the cubs' mother, P-19. It's more evidence of in-breeding within the Santa Monica Mountains lion colony, which doesn't really have enough open space to thrive.
"The fact that successful reproduction is occurring in the mountains indicates that we have high-quality habitat for mountains lions here," said Dr. Seth Riley, a wildlife expert with the National Park Service, which put out a statement. "Unfortunately, the amount of habitat is not sufficient to support a viable population long-term, and when new animals like these are born, especially young males, they run into freeways and development when they try to disperse."
P-12 has so far been the only radio-collared mountain lion documented to successfully cross the 101 Freeway, "thereby contributing new genetic material to the isolated lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains," the park service says.
Biologists from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, are now tracking seven mountain lions as part of a decade-long study to better understand how the animals survive in such an urbanized landscape. With the addition of the two kittens, the agency has studied a total of 24 mountain lions. This is the third litter of kittens documented during the study.
Although the habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains is robust and suitable for hunting and reproduction, the kittens will face many challenges to survive. The limited amount of connectivity between remaining natural areas and the lack of effective wildlife crossings can lead to deadly conflicts over territory and road mortalities.
Photo: National Park Service