For the first time in six years, a litter of mountain lion kittens has been documented at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California.
The three kittens were found May 26th by National Park Service researchers just south of Peter Strauss Ranch off of Mulholland Highway. Kittens P17 and P19 are females, and P18 is a male (P stands for Puma, another name for mountain lion, which is also the
species’ genus – Puma concolor).
Wildlife researchers had been monitoring P13, the kittens’ mother, throughout the Spring after GPS tracking revealed that she and P12, a collared male mountain lion, spent several days in close proximity in late January, park officials said in a release. Adult mountain lions rarely interact with each other except to mate and during conflicts over territory, the release added.
Each mountain lion kitten has been implanted with a tracking device that will allow researchers to follow their travels. This is the first urban mountain lion study that has had the opportunity to track mountain lion kittens from such a young age, NRA officials say.
National Park Service researchers will study the litter to see if the male mountain lion kitten will attempt to disperse to more expansive habitat when he matures, and if the females will have litters of their own in the future. The litter of kittens is significant in other ways as well. P12, the supposed father, could add some genetic breadth for the NRA's lion population. He made the only documented mountain lion crossing across Highway 101 in spring of 2009 to enter the mountains. If he came from another region, he would have brought new genetic material with him, according to the biologists.
While the habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains is robust and suitable for hunting and reproduction, biologists say the kittens will face many challenges to survive. The limited amount of open space and lack of wildlife crossings that allow for safe passage to other wild areas to the north and west can create conflicts over territory and result in inbreeding within the confined mountain lion population, according to biologists.
In another important development in the NRA's mountain lion study, P16, a male, was added to the research study in May. P16 lives in the Santa Susana Mountains off of I-5. The study hasn’t followed any mountain lions in the Santa Susana Mountains in six years, according to the NRA.
P16’s movements will be studied to see if he stays in his current location or attempts to cross a number of the major and minor highways to move north into national forest land, or south into the Santa Monica Mountains. Researchers will be particularly interested in a potential crossing of the Santa Clara river valley and Highway 126, potentially less of a barrier to wildlife than freeways like 101 and 118. This connection across Highway
126 is a critical step between the Santa Monica Mountains to the south, and large, healthy mountain lion populations to the north in Los Padres National Forest.
Past research in the Santa Monica Mountains reveals that male mountain lions range across the entire length and breadth of the Santa Monica Mountains, from I-405 at the east end of the park to the agricultural areas in Camarillo to the west, and from the Pacific Ocean and Malibu to the south to the 101 freeway to the north, which typically acts as a barrier to further travel. From these borders created by roads or development, they often turn around and head back into the mountains, unwilling to attempt a crossing to other wildlands in the Simi Hills, Santa Susana Mountains, and ultimately in Angeles and Los Padres National Forests, according to NRA biologists.
The Park Service mountain lion study in the NRA started in July 2002 with the initial collaring of P1. Since then, researchers have tracked 19 mountain lions. Currently, the study monitors six working GPS collars on adult mountain lions, as well as the three new kittens that are monitored by vehicle or on foot using VHF transmitters. This is the largest number of mountain lions ever followed at one point in time during the study. The study data has also informed project proposals currently in progress to establish a safe and effective wildlife crossing point under Highway 101 in the wildlife corridor near Liberty Canyon road in Agoura Hills.
The study has received a variety of federal, state, grant, and donation funding over the past eight years. It last received funding in 2008, and the National Park Service and its partners are actively working to secure additional funding to keep the project going past 2010.