Meet Our Study’s Newest Mountain Lion Kittens!

August 04, 2015 Posted by: Kate Kuykendall, Public Affairs Officer

Kitten

P-44. National Park Service photo.

Our newest research subjects are two spotted mountain lion kittens between the ages of three and four weeks old. P-43 and P-44, as the two are known, are from two separate litters on opposite ends of our study area. 

P-43 is a young female found in a remote area of the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu Creek State Park. We've been following her mom, P-23, since she was three weeks old and this is her second litter of kittens. P-23 gained fame a few years back when a motorcyclist spotted her early one morning on top of a deer on Mulholland Highway. 

The image below gives you a sense of what these moms are looking for in a den. Many of mom's GPS points are localized in one small area for the first three weeks after she gives birth (which is how researchers know she might have a litter), so our biologist, Jeff Sikich, has a GPS device in hand as he tries to track down the den location. At this point he's typically crawling through thick brush on his knees and sometimes on his belly. As you can see below, this particular den was in an area with steep hillsides and large boulders. After about 45 minutes of searching, Sikich found P-43 underneath thick brush in the hollowed out area below. 

Kitten

P-43. National Park Service photo.

To minimize disturbance, only one person enters the den and then brings the kitten(s) to a work-up area at least 100 meters away. A small team of biologists then quickly assess the animal's health, take blood and tissue samples, measurements, and mark the kittens in some way, such as with ear tags. 

Wondering where mom is? Biologists go to the den during the day, while she's out hunting or doing whatever moms do when they get a break from the kids! 

Here's a close-up of P-43 before she's taken to the work-up area. P-23's last litter of kittens was fathered by her father, P-12, so it will be interesting to see what the DNA results find in terms of a mate. 

Mountain Lion KittenP-43. National Park Service photo.

P-44, also a female, makes her home much farther north, in the Santa Susana Mountains. Her mom is P-35, who was collared in April of 2014. P-35 is estimated to be about five years old and this is at least her second litter (biologists captured remote camera images traveling last year with older kittens). 

Mountain Lion KittenP-44. National Park Service photo.

Although DNA results are still not available, Sikich thinks it is likely that P-38, a large male captured this past March, is the father. GPS data showed they traveled together for a few days three months before the kittens were born. 

"Mountain lions are solitary animals and typically adults only spend time together if they're fighting or mating," said Sikich. "They're both alive and well, so my guess is that P-38 is the father." 

Interestingly, these new research subjects are the only single litters we've documented since we started the study in 2002. These are the seventh and eighth litters we've marked at the den, though that number doesn't include two other litters discovered when the kittens were already at least six months old. 

The other litters ranged in size from two to four kittens.

mountain lions, kittens, mountain lions




25 Comments Comments icon

  1. Pat - Orange County, CA
    July 19, 2016 at 11:07

    Ranger Kate, thanks for your reply. But just to clarify, my question was about P-44, not P-43. P-44 was the kitten featured on the broadcast. Was it P-44 perhaps you were actually referring to? If not, can you update as to what happened to P-44? How long after July 2015 did the kitten not make it? Sometimes we bond with animals we see on TV, so just curious is all for my question. Thanks for your efforts that you and your team do.

  2. Ranger Kate - Thousand Oaks, CA
    July 18, 2016 at 01:36

    @Pat: Thank you for your question about P-43. We are not 100% certain about what happened to P-43, but we suspect she did not survive. Our biologist began to suspect something was amiss and then set up remote cameras on a deer kill to see whether he could get photos to learn more. He got hundreds of photos of mom, but P-43 was not with her in any of the photos. Thank you for your concern and please feel free to keep up with our study at www.facebook.com/SantaMonicaMtns

  3. Pat - Orange County, CA
    July 17, 2016 at 11:10

    @Kate or NPS: 60 Minutes tonight broadcast (or rebroadcast) a piece on SoCal's mountain lions which featured the discovery of kitten-cub P-44. Can anyone there provide an update as to what happened to this darling kitten. A reference online said she did not make it into adulthood. When was she last tracked alive? Was she abandoned, hit by a car or what? Many of us saw the 60 minutes piece and were captivated with such an innocent, beautiful creature. Please provide an update. Many thanks.

  4. Lynette - Sherman Oaks, CA
    October 21, 2015 at 10:07

    I wish I could pick them up and kiss them. Love the work you are doing!

  5. ray - colton, CA
    October 10, 2015 at 08:26

    its so sad. What a quandary. Growth and economic struggles of mankind on one hand more jobs more people more places needed to live, and on the other hand you have beautiful creatures that were here before us suffering because of our ignorance and selfishness and greed. education education education of the public. Rat poison? Really? These people to eat a spoonful to educate them properly. bastards. Keep your freaking home and surroundings clean and you won't have rats

  6. ray - colton, CA
    October 10, 2015 at 08:26

    its so sad. What a quandary. Growth and economic struggles of mankind on one hand more jobs more people more places needed to live, and on the other hand you have beautiful creatures that were here before us suffering because of our ignorance and selfishness and greed. education education education of the public. Rat poison? Really? These people to eat a spoonful to educate them properly. bastards. Keep your freaking home and surroundings clean and you won't have rats

  7. mary - Granada Hills, California
    August 13, 2015 at 10:35

    Please make sure they are closely monitored to keep them from harm. thank you

  8. Darren - Birmingham, United Kingdom
    August 09, 2015 at 01:03

    Fabulous work :) Beautiful animals, thank you.

  9. eugenia - omaha, nebr
    August 09, 2015 at 12:46

    Absolutely adorable

  10. Kay - Pleasanton, California
    August 08, 2015 at 09:36

    Aren't mountain lions' eyes amber colored as adults? Do they start life out with blue eyes? If yes, what's this adaptation for? Tx.

  11. Mike - Northridge, CA
    August 08, 2015 at 08:50

    So precious. Please keep doing what you are doing. It is a wonderful view of these beautiful animals eking out a living so close one of the major population centers of the USA. I am amazed their habitat can support them, with so many potential threats. Your special work helps us to understand and experience the lives of these big cats. It is a story I love to read about every time you post.

  12. Dan - Escalante, UR
    August 05, 2015 at 09:51

    @Kate: I appreciate your reply to my post. I realize that mine is just one of many many interested voices. There's a lot that could be said about the motivations surrounding research of all sorts, and I acknowledge the peculiar context of our regulatory, economic, and social environment and how that may guide and constrain conservation activities. In general, I very much appreciate the work of wildlife biologists, and the serious nature of your inquiries. Again, though, I issue the challenge to you and your cohort to effect better means of identifying and tracking your subjects. Considering the sophistication of pattern recognition video and audio technology, I challenge you and the research community to move the technology used to identify these animals beyond the current state of the art. Ear tags are crude, disfiguring, and unsophisticated, and may have unrecognized consequences for the animals (never mind to humans like myself, and maybe to you too, if you stop and look deeply). It's incumbent upon you and your profession to articulate the need for changes to these practices -your voices carry weight that individual citizens' do not (and most of us aren't ear tagging cougars). I'm sure you all can identify a quantifiable (fundable) motivation for developing the technology -might even be a business opportunity for the developer, especially if there's demand among the research community. Thank you speaking out and answering so many questions and for contributing to deeper understanding.

  13. Lisa - Alkana, Oklahoma
    August 05, 2015 at 02:35

    Thank you for tracking and protecting these beautiful cats, and for sharing photos of the kittens. Those are the bluest eyes I've ever seen. I wish these girls long and peaceful lives guarding the LA basin. It will always be me home, Kiddos, take good care of it as the Park Service takes care of you.

  14. Kate - Thousand Oaks, CA
    August 05, 2015 at 02:01

    @Dan: Thanks for sharing your sentiments about the methods used to conduct wildlife research. I can understand how some of the research may offend sensibilities about what it means to be a wild animal. As the people charged with preserving and protecting the population, there is a balancing act in which we must weigh the conservation benefit of every action. If we entered a kitten den just to get pretty pictures for Facebook, that may not be worth the conservation value. If we put a GPS collar on an animal just because we were super curious about where they hang out, I would also argue that may not be worth the conservation value. This particular study's research, however, has not only documented that mountain lions actually exist within the city limits of Los Angeles (and surrounding mountains), but has also documented serious threats to the local population. We would not know about the inbreeding, or the rodenticide poisoning, or the need for a wildlife crossing specifically at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills without the radio collars and the ear tags. The conservation value has been significant. I think you're right to be wary about how wild creatures are treated. I can assure you that no one has more concern for the animals than the professional biologists who are leading the work and who have spent their lives trying to protect them. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and concerns!

  15. Kate - Thousand Oaks, CA
    August 05, 2015 at 01:53

    @Norma @Carol @Dave: Thanks for the positive feedback. I'm glad you like the photos! @Alex: At this point we don't offer that on the National Park Service website. But I really wish we did or could. :) @Jenny: Good question about the mom coming back! We have someone who is using telemetry to get pings from the mom's collar and make sure she doesn't come back.

  16. Jenny - Altadena, CA
    August 05, 2015 at 01:32

    Isn't there a chance that mom would come back at some point during this process? What are the procedures to deal with that if it were to happen? I'd think she'd have to be somewhat nearby...or perhaps a moment is chosen when GPS shows she's far enough away(though wonder given the size and speed of a puma how far that would have to be)? Honestly, I get nervous even thinking about the possibilities! Brave biologists! That said, it's fantastic that they're being studied-thanks so much for sharing their stories and photos here!

  17. Dave Ahern - Orange, CA
    August 05, 2015 at 12:28

    It is pretty darn terrific to get a glimpse of nature and wildlife like this. Got to love the work being done here. Thanks for sharing ! Dave

  18. Dan - Escalante, UT
    August 05, 2015 at 10:40

    I appreciate the work being done to better understand our fellow beings. I am heartbroken, though, at the "necessity" of ear tagging. "We had to destroy the village in order to save it" comes to mind. Something surely is lost in our spirits as we treat these beings as research objects, with numbers for names, and with radio collars rendering them as sources of more "big data." Not that we shouldn't remain inquisitive and seek to understand, but to me it seems that the methods used, particularly permanent disfigurement through ear tagging, indicates a certain lack of true recognition of these other beings' inherent dignity that diminishes our own. Radio collars-ok. They can be removed. Ear tags, like Star of David tattoos, are disfiguring marks that demonstrate a chilling objectification of the "subject" by the "authority." Please, you fine biologists out there, please find a better way. These aren't range cows!

  19. Alex - Los Angeles, California
    August 05, 2015 at 10:17

    You might want to add Twitter & Facebook share buttons, it would make posting easier.

  20. Carol - Tehachapi, CA
    August 05, 2015 at 08:38

    SO glad to hear of other big cats thriving there. We used to see ours (I'm in a mountain forest edge) far more often, as well as hear them. It's a gift to live in such an interface with the wild. And no kidding, incredibly cute cubs!

  21. Norma - Simi Valley, CA
    August 04, 2015 at 09:21

    This makes me so happy to see that even with so much human encroachment cougars are still thriving in the Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountains. Last fall while hiking just after dusk my friend and I heard a mountain lion screaming not far from us. It was thrilling to know that they are out there. Hope these kittens live long enough to have a litter of their own.

  22. Kate - Thousand Oaks, CA
    August 04, 2015 at 04:17

    @Jackie: Have no fear, we never disclose the locations of animals we are currently tracking. This post gives some insight into how our biologist finds the den *when he already has the GPS location,* but this would be impossible without the GPS data (and it's hard enough as it is!). @James: Good question about what mom is doing during the day. Mountain lions are most active from sunset to sunup, but it's also true that they can hunt any time of the day or night. In this case, I actually updated the post to say that she is hunting or "doing whatever moms do when they get a break from the kids!" It's also possible she could be taking a nap, so thanks for bringing this up, so there's no way to know for sure. @Leslie: Thanks for catching that typo! I've updated the text so that it now says P-38 in both places.

  23. Leslie - Burbank, CA
    August 04, 2015 at 03:42

    "Although DNA results are still not available, Sikich thinks it is likely that P-38, a large male captured this past March, is the father. GPS data showed they traveled together for a few days three months before the kittens were born. "'Mountain lions are solitary animals and typically adults only spend time together if they're fighting or mating," said Sikich. "They're both alive and well, so my guess is that P-39 is the father.'" So... which one do they think is the father? P-38 or P-39?

  24. James - San Diego, CA
    August 04, 2015 at 03:13

    The blog indicates that biologists look for the den in the day, when mom is out hunting. I'd always thought that mountain lions hunt primarily at night. Can you provide additional insights on this?

  25. Jackie - Yuba City, California
    August 04, 2015 at 02:36

    please, please do NOT share how they are found because some idiot would go RESCUE them

 
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