National Park Service researchers have added two mountain lion kittens to their long-running study of the species in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, the federal agency announced last week.
The siblings, a female and male dubbed Puma- 59 and Puma- 60, were found by park service scientists and California Department of Fish and Wildlife biologists last month in the central portion of the range.
Their mother is P-53, who at the age of 2 becomes the youngest female in the study ever to bear offspring. The litter is her first.
The father is suspected to be P-12, although confirmation via DNA results are pending.
He is the only lion documented crossing into the Santa Monica Mountains from the north, bringing in new genetic material to an otherwise landlocked population of mountain lions with low genetic diversity.
P-12 has repeatedly mated in the Santa Monica Mountains, helping to spread new genes, the park service said. However, he has also mated with offspring and their offspring, the kind of close inbreeding that reduces genetic diversity over the long-term, they said.
“If P-12 is in fact these kittens’ father, that also means he’s their grandfather, their great-grandfather and their great-great grandfather,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service. “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.”
Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills has been identified as the ideal spot for a wildlife crossing. Caltrans is drawing up a proposal. Fundraising efforts through SaveLACougars.com are underway with the National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund.
A study co-authored last year with researchers at UCLA found that without increased connectivity, especially for animals moving in from the north, this would lead to the continued erosion of genetic diversity and increase the chances of extinction of the mountain range’s puma population.
P-12 is suspected to be the father because of two clues.
First, an area resident notified the researchers about hearing mountain lions mating near their property in April. P-53, who is collared with a GPS unit, was in the area at that time.
Secondly, a photo of P-12, whose GPS collar has malfunctioned, placed him in the area at the same time.
P-53 made headlines in 2015 when she was discovered on a camera trap video as a kitten chirping, a noise she made to communicate with her mother, and feeding on a deer at her mother’s kill site.
Researchers visited her den and marked one of her siblings.
That marked kitten and another one, also unknown to researchers, died. P-53’s existence wasn’t confirmed until her head popped up on camera.
P-59 and P-60 are the 13th litter of kittens marked by National Park Service biologists at a den site.
—Acorn staff report