National Park Service
Two new mountain lion kittens have been discovered in the western Santa Monicas. They were born in late November or early December and visited by researchers for the National Park Service when they were about three weeks old. In the park service video posted this morning by KCET, the kittens are about six weeks. They are a male and a female, P-46 and P-47. The video was shot when the mother was out of the den. If nothing else, the video confirms: when you are out in the Santa Monica Mountains, watch where you step. Turn up your sound.
The new kittens were born to P-19, whose last previous litter you know about. From her 2013 litter, P-32 was the male who was killed on Interstate 5 near Castaic last summer, after successfully crossing both the 101 and 118 freeways; P-33 is the female who crossed the 101 freeway near Thousand Oaks last year and is still believed to be roaming free; and P-34 is the female who was found dead in September on a trail near Point Mugu in Ventura County, showing signs of rat poison ingestion.
The brother of P-19, P-18, was killed trying to cross the 405 Freeway in Sepulveda Pass in 2011. Their father was P-12, who also sired the previous two litters of P-19. P-12 now has not been seen or heard from since March 2015, and park service researchers will study DNA samples from the new kittens to see who sired them. From Chris Clarke's story at KCET's website:
Researchers have been tracking mountain lions in the Santa Monicas since 2002, and these kittens' data now adds to the store of knowledge about the range's cats. Researchers tracking P-19 by way of her transmitter noticed that she stopped roaming quite so broadly for a time, indicating potential denning behavior. After about three weeks of relative inactivity, she started venturing farther again; Park Service biologists chose one of those day trips to try to locate the den, with obvious success.
The kittens were weighed and measured, equipped with implanted mini-transmitters, and sampled for genetic testing. Park Service scientists will analyze the kitties' genomes to unlock another mystery: just which of the male pumas in the area is the father. P-19's previous two litters were sired by her father, P-12, a fact that had wildlife biologists fretting over the level of inbreeding the Santa Monicas' cramped habitat seems to engender. But P-12 hasn't been seen or heard of since March, and camera traps photographed P-19 in the company of a different male puma some time before she started denning.
It's thought that that mysterious male mountain lion might have been P-45, a 150-pound lion of uncertain origin first discovered in the Santa Monicas in November.
If P-45 is the dad, that may be good news for the kittens' odds of survival: he may turn out to be unrelated to P-19, thus limiting the chances of inbreeding.
"We're very interested to learn more about who the father is," said Kuykendall, and "particularly curious to know if it's P-45."
The park service is expected to announce the news later this morning.
Added: More National Park Service photos and video of the kittens as P-19 returns to the den.