Mountain lion killed on Malibu Canyon Road

CROSSING GUARD–P-23 is captured by a park service trail camera as it crosses a mountain road. The adult female was killed by a vehicle this week on Malibu Canyon Road. Courtesy of NPS

The  roads and highways of the Santa Monica Mountains have claimed the life of another cougar, an act viewed as the latest assault on the animal’s dwindling population.

National Park Service biologists recovered the remains of a female mountain lion in the hills just north of Pepperdine University near Malibu Canyon Road earlier this week. The adult female, known as P-23, appeared to have been struck by a vehicle days earlier, officials said.

P-23 is the 18th known case of a mountain lion killed on a road or freeway since the park service began studying the regional cougar population in 2002. 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.

“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 seen as a kitten when biologists tagged her.  Courtesy of NPS

Southern California’s extensive road network is both a source of mortality–as in the case of P-23– and a barrier to movement by the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. Planning and fundraising are currently underway to build a $60-million wildlife bridge crossing the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills that would give mountain lions and other mammals a new safe passage between the Santa Monicas in the south and the Simi Hills in the north.

“P-23’s tragic death is a reminder that wildlife corridors and open space are critical to the survival of these magnificent predators,” said J.P. Rose, urban wildlands staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, an Arizona-based nonprofit.

“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 said.

P-23 was 5 1/2 years old and her most recent offspring are now approximately 1 year old. Biologists tagged one of her kittens, P-54, at a few weeks of age, and learned of an additional

P-23 as an adult.  Courtesy of NPS

sibling after trail cameras saw it travelling with mom and sister. Given that the two juvenile cats have already reached the 1-year mark, biologists believe they will be able to fend for themselves. P-23 dispersed from her mother at age 1.

P-23, like several other mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, is a product of 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.

–John Loesing