Two newly discovered cougar cubs have made a splash on social media, but the blue-eyed, polka-dotted kittens, too young to leave their mother’s den, highlight the challenges faced by the species in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The National Park Service’s (NPS ) mountain lion study team discovered the kittens after project ecologist Jeff Sikich observed the two-year-old female mountain lion P-53 exhibiting denning behavior.
A team of NPS and Fish and Wildlife experts located the den and examined the kittens, designated P-59 and P-60. They’re the 13th litter to be part of the study, and while they appear healthy, evidence suggests they may be the product of inbreeding.
P-53 is the youngest female in the study to bear offspring at two years old, which is still within normal range” according to an NPS press release. This is her first litter. There is evidence that P-12, the dominant male in the Santa Monica Mountains, is their father.
“If P-12 is in fact these kittens’ father, that also means he’s their grandfather, their great grandfather, and their great-great grandfather,” explained Sikich, “Inbreeding to this degree really highlights the need for providing safe passage across the 101 freeway so new mountain lions can enter the population and breed.”
A study released last year found that without increased connectivity, the continued erosion of genetic diversity would increase the chances of extinction for the mountain range’s population.
In 2008, Congress authorized the Rim of the Valley study to determine the feasibility of adding land into the local national recreation area. In February, NPS released results of an eight-year study into the Rim of the Valley corridor and recommended that the federal government should add 170,000 acres to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Earlier this year, Ventura County took the first step toward creating a new zoning designation, a Wildlife Corridor Overlay Zone that would establish permanent, protected routes for animals traveling to and from the Santa Monica Mountains and Los Padres National Forest.
According to Supervisor Linda Parks, “The area where the zone would be placed directly coincides with sophisticated mapping from the South Coast Missing Linkages Project, a collaborative effort by the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, the state Resources Agency, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and South Coast Wildlands.”
Activists hope the Ventura program can be a blueprint for Los Angeles County, and ultimately, the entire Coastal Zone.
Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills has been identified as the ideal spot for a wildlife crossing. Caltrans is currently drawing up a proposal, and fundraising efforts are underway with the National Wildlife Federation and Santa Monica Mountains Fund (SaveLACougars.com).
For P-59 and P-60, the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor overpass will be essential for their chance of survival.
For more information about the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor, to donate or to get involved: nwf.org/Save-LA-Cougars/Wildlife-Crossing.