Another Surprise from P-23

December 16, 2015 Posted by: Zach Behrens, Communications Fellow
P-23 on a hillside.

P-23 on a hillside. | Photo: National Park Service

Some of the cats in our study of mountain lions keep things really interesting for us. P-23 has been notable for a number of reasons, from that photo of her atop a deer on Mulholland Highway, just feet away from a cyclist, to being another example of inbreeding in the Santa Monica Mountains.

But this cat has also brought us a number of firsts since she was born three and a half years ago. She's the first to be involved in an extreme type of first-order inbreeding (she mated with her father/grandfather) resulting in a litter of at least two kittens. Those two then were eaten by another adult male in the study's first case of cannibalism. 

Sadly, two kittens from her next litter were also preyed upon by another animal and killed (we're still awaiting DNA results that may shed light on this mystery). We had initially thought she had only one kitten, but when researchers went to investigate the grisly scene, they found there were actually two kittens that had been consumed. 

The discovery of the second unknown kitten wasn't all that surprising;mountain lions have earned the ghost cat moniker, after all. 

After that, biologist Jeff Sikich noticed something about P-23's movements on GPS. The behavior was familiar, but he wanted to know for sure. So he set up a camera trap where P-23 left a deer kill and the next morning saw this: 

Another kitten from P-23's litterWatch the full video here.

Yup! Sikich's suspicions were confirmed: That's another kitten from P-23's summer litter! Since the kitten has yet to be captured and outfitted with a tracking device, he or she does not have a study ID (such as P-46, the next available number). But we hope to learn more. This kitten, now about 6 months old, successfully avoided initial detection from our field biologists andsomehowan attack from an animal that killed its siblings. 

Just like its mother, this kitten is full of surprises. 

mountain lions, kittens, mountain lions, mountain lions

6 Comments Comments icon

  1. March 17, 2016 at 07:38

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  2. January 11, 2016 at 03:33

    Judy: Not to worry! The mother, P-23, is with the kitten. We've observed kittens staying with their mothers from anywhere between 12 and 18 months before dispersing. While they're with their mother, they learn skills, such as hunting.

    James: In this case, we know that P-23 killed the deer on the shoulder of the road, then dragged it down the hill after that photo was taken. In general, mountain lions can sometimes be opportunistic and scavenge on dead animals. Funny enough, that happened here. Soon after, another mountain lion scavenged that kill.

  3. January 04, 2016 at 09:59

    Does it appear that this deer was hit by a car an injured and P-23 found a easy prey? If the deer was already dead, then big cats will not eat them, is that true?

  4. December 21, 2015 at 12:53

    I hope the National Park system does everything it can to keep her safe and away from idiot hunters. I for one, am getting sick and tired of hearing about trying to give wildlife a chance only to have them tracked down and killed for nothing. Do all you can to help her survive. 6 months is way to young to be on her own. Help her.

  5. December 20, 2015 at 08:15

    There is no way for this kitten to hunt for herself. Are biologists able to slip food into where the deer carcass is hidden to help the kitten survive? How will this kitten learn to hunt?

  6. December 17, 2015 at 11:33

    This is such wonderful research and so interesting. Love the little kitten noise that I did not know they make! Thank you Zach for keeping us all in the loop good news or bad!

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Last updated: January 11, 2016

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