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Contact: Kate Kuykendall, 805-370-2343THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- National Park Service (NPS) biologists confirmed this week that a mountain lion recently struck and killed by a vehicle on the 118 Freeway was P-39, an adult female with three six-month-old kittens.
“Navigating our complex road network is a major challenge for mountain lions in this region,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the kittens have developed the hunting skills to survive without their mom.”
The death occurred east of the Rocky Peak exit on the evening of Saturday, December 3, but the incident was not reported to the NPS until a few days later. Researchers suspected P-39 may have been the victim because her GPS collar stopped functioning and she was in the general vicinity a few hours before the collision, but the remains of the animal were never located and witnesses who saw the animal did not report seeing a collar.
After repeatedly searching the area, this week Sikich located the damaged GPS collar in the center divider of the freeway, suggesting that the collar likely came off as a result of the impact with the vehicle.
P-39, estimated to be five years old, was first captured and outfitted with a GPS collar in April of 2015. She is known to have had at least two litters of kittens, including the three six-month-old kittens known as P-50, P-51, and P-52.
Since researchers began tracking her in 2015, P-39 had stayed in the natural area north of the 118 Freeway, but a few days prior to her death, she successfully crossed the freeway for the first time. It is not known whether her kittens were traveling with her at the time of her death.
An uncollared male mountain lion was killed near this same stretch of 10-lane freeway in October of 2008. A hiker/equestrian tunnel that has occasionally been used as an undercrossing is located less than one mile away, but the area lacks adequate wildlife fencing to direct animals to the tunnel. During the 18 months that researchers tracked P-3 in 2003 and 2004, he successfully crossed the 118 Freeway a total of 14 times. But although P-3 used the tunnel multiple times, other animals have obviously crossed the road itself, with sometimes fatal results. While viable crossing points are critical to increase connectivity, fencing is also needed to reduce mortality and increase usage.
P-39 is the 13th known case of a mountain lion killed on a freeway or road in the study region since 2002. Southern California’s extensive road network is a major barrier for local wildlife and has particularly hemmed in the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains. A proposed wildlife crossing on the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills would provide a connection between the genetically isolated population in the Santa Monica Mountains and populations to the north.
The National Park Service has been studying mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains since 2002 to determine how they survive in an increasingly fragmented and urbanized environment.
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 www.nps.gov/samo.