P-61, the adult male mountain lion who recently made headlines for successfully crossing the 405 freeway, has been killed during a second crossing attempt. The four-year-old cat had crossed the massive 10-lane freeway in the same area on July 19.
The National Park Service (NPS) is reporting that the big cat was struck around 4 a.m. on Saturday, September 7, as he tried to cross the freeway in the Sepulveda Pass area. His final GPS point indicates that he was between Bel Air Crest Road and the Sepulveda Boulevard underpass.
“California Highway Patrol was initially alerted and moved P-61 out of traffic,” an NPS statement reports. “City of Los Angeles Animal Control officers then retrieved his body and the radio-collar and notified both California Department of Fish and Wildlife personnel and our researchers here at Santa Monica Mountains.”
Researchers plan to perform a necropsy on the remains.
“We’re not sure why P-61 decided to try and cross the 405 Freeway again,” said NPS biologist Jeff Sikich. “Based on his GPS points, he had been staying close to the eastern edge of the 405 more recently. Over the last few years, we and others have gotten remote camera photos of an uncollared male mountain lion that apparently lives in that area. A scuffle between the two could have caused P-61 to move back west.”
The July crossing was the first time during the course of the NPS’ 17-year study of mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains that a GPS-collared lion had successfully navigated the 405 freeway. A young male, P-18, was hit by a car in 2011 also in the Sepulveda Pass area, as was another uncollared male lion in 2009.
The 405 and the 101 freeways act as wildlife barriers, keeping wildlife populations in the Santa Monica Mountains sequestered on an island of habitat, unable to disperse into other areas. The mountain lion tracking program has focused attention on this issue and revealed the negative impact of isolation on the small local population’s genetics, as well as the high death toll from road strikes.
The big cats aren’t the only victims. Bobcats and coyotes, also part of the NPS tracking program, are also impacted, and the freeways form a barrier for everything from the brown bears that once lived in the Santa Monica Mountains, to reptiles like snakes and lizards. Even birds can have trouble crossing over multi-lane freeways, which can generate their own currents and air turbulence.
The largest wildlife crossing ever built is moving forward on the 101 at Liberty Canyon, but the Sepulveda Pass remains an unsolved problem, although Metro floated plans for an eight-foot-high culvert for wildlife near the Getty Center View Trailhead more than a decade ago.
A similar tunnel under the 118 freeway offers wildlife a relatively safe crossing from open space in the San Fernando Valley to the Simi Hills, but research indicates a corridor may not be enough: special fencing is needed to safely direct mountain lions and other wildlife away from the freeway and onto or into the passage. There is some wildlife fencing along the 405 in the Sepulveda corridor, but the death of P-61 is gruesome evidence that it is not adequate.
The problem isn’t limited to urban Los Angeles County. Just days after the death of P-61, a mountain lion was struck and killed on the 5 freeway near Castaic.
“If we keep letting mountain lions die in L.A. traffic, there soon won’t be any left,” wrote Los Angeles Times writer Carla Hall in a September 9 editorial. “If we don’t want them to die on roads and freeways, we need to create more wildlife corridors,” Hall wrote. “It’s great that the California Department of Transportation is using mostly private funds to build an $87-million, state-of-the-art wildlife bridge across the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, but there should be some safe route across the 405 as well.”
Since 2002, the National Park Service has been studying mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains to determine how they survive in an increasingly fragmented and urbanized environment. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is responsible for overseeing the management and conservation of mountain lions in the state.
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 nps.gov/samo.