Earlier this week, National Park Service biologists recovered the remains of a female mountain lion near Malibu Canyon Road. The adult female known as P-23 appeared to have been struck by a vehicle days earlier.
“We’ve been tracking P-23 since she was just a few weeks old and have documented her dispersal from her mom, establishment of a home range as an adult, and birth to three litters of kittens,” said Jeff Sikich, biologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Unfortunately, her life came to an end prematurely due to the challenge of navigating the complex road network in this area.”
P-23 was five and a half years old and her most recent offspring are now approximately one year old. Biologists tagged one of the kittens, P-54, at a few weeks of age, but only learned of the additional kitten after trail cameras picked him or her travelling with mom and sister.
Given that the two juvenile cats have already reached the one-year mark, biologists believe they will be able to fend for themselves. Mountain lions typically leave their mom between one and one a half years old. P-23 dispersed from her mother at one year of age.
P-23, like several other mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, is a product of first order inbreeding. Her mother, P-19, mated with P-12, who is both her father and grandfather. Moreover, P-23 also later mated with P-12, her father, in another example of this close inbreeding.
In 2013, P-23 attracted major news coverage when she was photographed on top of a deer on Mulholland Highway. Photos of the encounter went viral on the park’s Facebook page.
P-23 is the 18th known case of a mountain lion killed on a freeway or road in the study region since 2002. Southern California’s extensive road network is both a source of mortality, as in this case, and a major barrier to movement in the case of large and busy freeways, which have particularly hemmed in the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The National Park Service has been studying mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains since 2002 to determine how they survive in an increasingly fragmented and urbanized environment.
“P-23’s tragic death is a reminder that wildlife corridors and open space are critical to the survival of these magnificent predators,” says J. P. Rose, Urban Wildlands Staff Attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“California needs to stop funneling money into more highway projects when our existing highways don’t include crossings to protect mountain lions and other key members of our ecosystems,” Rose continues. “And some local jurisdictions like the city of Temecula are unfortunately making the problem worse by allowing development in known corridors for Southern California mountain lions.”
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which is responsible for overseeing the management and conservation of mountain lions in the state, will conduct a necropsy.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) is the largest urban national park in the country, encompassing more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A unit of the National Park Service, it comprises a seamless network of local, state, and federal parks interwoven with private lands and communities. As one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, SMMNRA preserves the rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities. For more information, visit here.