Mountain lion P-39 was struck and killed on the 118 freeway near Rocky Peak in Santa Susana Pass on December 3, the National Park Service announced Thursday. P-39 lived in the Santa Susana Mountains (not the Santa Monicas) and was the mother of three six-month-old puma kittens. They were photographed together feeding on a deer last year as part of the park service's ongoing study of local mountain lions.
P-39 is the 13th known case of a mountain lion killed on a freeway or road in the park service study region since 2002. She had recently crossed the freeway successfully.
“Navigating our complex road network is a major challenge for mountain lions in this region,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the kittens have developed the hunting skills to survive without their mom.”
The death occurred east of the Rocky Peak exit on the evening of Saturday, December 3, but the incident was not reported to the NPS until a few days later. Researchers suspected P-39 may have been the victim because her GPS collar stopped functioning and she was in the general vicinity a few hours before the collision, but the remains of the animal were never located and witnesses who saw the animal did not report seeing a collar.
After repeatedly searching the area, this week Sikich located the damaged GPS collar in the center divider of the freeway, suggesting that the collar likely came off as a result of the impact with the vehicle.
P-39, estimated to be five years old, was first captured and outfitted with a GPS collar in April of 2015. She is known to have had at least two litters of kittens, including the three six-month-old kittens known as P-50, P-51, and P-52.
Since researchers began tracking her in 2015, P-39 had stayed in the natural area north of the 118 Freeway, but a few days prior to her death, she successfully crossed the freeway for the first time. It is not known whether her kittens were traveling with her at the time of her death.
The park service says that a hiker and equestrian underpass is less than a mile away from where P-39's collar was found, but notes that "the area lacks adequate wildlife fencing to direct animals to the tunnel."