NPS photos of P-33 posted to Facebook earlier in March.
For just the second time since the National Park Service has been monitoring Santa Monica Mountains cougars, a lion has successfully crossed the U.S. 101 freeway. This crossing by P-33, a 16-month-old female, was made going north in the Conejo Grade near Camarillo, making her the only lion they have spotted dispersing out of the mountain range. That's big because, as previously reported, the mountain lions in the Santa Monicas are too numerous to thrive in the limited range available and the population is inbreeding. Some lions have been killed in encounters with vehicles and populated areas, including at least one previously trying to cross the 101 freeway. In all, park service researchers have studied 35 lions in the Santa Monicas.
Maybe it's in her DNA? P-33 was fathered by P-12, who was the only previous Santa Monica Mountains lion known to have crossed the 101 freeway. She just recently separated from her mother, P-19. Photo album on Facebook.
From the NPS:
For only the second time since the National Park Service began studying local mountain lions in 2002, researchers have documented a successful crossing of the 101 Freeway.
The young female cat, known as P-33, also became the first mountain lion among more than 35 studied to disperse out of the Santa Monica Mountains. The other big cat to accomplish this feat back in 2009, P-12, crossed in the opposite direction, from the north to the south.
“The GPS points show that the lions we’re tracking frequently come right up to the edges of the freeway and then turn around,” said Dr. Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “After more than 10 years of seeing the same pattern in our data, it is very cool to see a lion figure out how to cross the freeway and reach other natural areas to the north.”
Providing connections between the big cats of the Santa Monica Mountains and the populations to the north, including in the Santa Susana Mountains and beyond, is critical for maintaining the long-term genetic health of the population. Previous National Park Service research has documented genetic differences north and south of the 101 Freeway, as well as multiple cases of first-order inbreeding.
P-33’s dispersal was also significant because it occurred in the Camarillo area, on the farthest western end of the mountains. Although the exact path is unclear, she crossed on the Conejo Grade (see map) on the morning of March 9, sometime between midnight and 2:00 a.m.
"It's remarkable that this lion made it across the 101 alive," said Linda Parks, Ventura County Supervisor and chair of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. "We are fortunate to have vast areas of undeveloped open space for these animals to roam, but we need safe crossing locations for them to keep motorists and animals safe from collisions."