Despite its highly urbanized setting, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has a decidedly wild edginess, one that springs from its resident mountain lions. You're not likely to see one of these big cats, but there's a small handful of them there in the NRA, roaming its rumpled chaparral, preying on its deer and any smaller prey they can find.
Since 2002 biologists at the NRA, which is adjacent to Los Angeles, the country's second-most urbanized area, have been working with the support of the California State Parks and Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to better understand the mountain lions that roam within, or pass through, the NRA's borders. Recently their task got a bit of a boost when a young female mountain lion was captured and fitted with a radio collar. Found in the Hidden Valley region of the Santa Monica Mountains, the lion named "P-13" could be the kitten of mountain lion P-6, a female that was previously radio-collared and known to be in the area recently based on remote camera photos. Blood and tissue collected during the capture will be used for DNA testing through UCLA that will help determine the potential relationship between P-13 and P-6.
Hopefully her movements will add to the NRA's knowledge of mountain lion ranges, health, and how they react to the surrounding urbanization. Mountain lion P-1, the first one collared in this study, is now thought to be 12 or 13 years old and is most likely alive following a fight with another mountain lion. P-10 and P-12 are both 2-year-old males with functioning collars; they currently inhabit the Topanga and Malibu Creek areas, respectively, although male lions often roam across the entire Santa Monica Mountains. P-13 joins them as the third mountain lion with a functioning collar. She is thought to be at least 1 year old.
Mountain lions face significant challenges in the Santa Monica Mountains, primarily due to limited habitat and threats from urbanization including freeways, such as Highway 101, that obstruct travel. In February of 2009, P-12 successfully crossed Highway 101 at Liberty Canyon, an unprecedented event in the mountain lion study. Designated wildlife corridors within the mountains offer the lions opportunities for long distance movement and the ability to discover new mates. Mountain lions have a range up to 250 square miles, and require ample acreage to find sufficient food.
Genetically, lions in the Santa Monicas are at the southern end of a larger population that extends northward to Big Sur. The long-term survival of mountain lion populations here depends on their ability to move between regions to maintain genetic diversity.
Fortunately, to date there haven’t been any reported negative direct interactions between humans and mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. Sightings are incredibly rare, even for people who spend large amounts of time in the area. Preservation of open space and wildlife corridors in the Santa Monica Mountains through local, state, and federal partnerships is integral to regional mountain lion survival.