Cougar Crosses Busy LA Freeway Safely

7 Sep 2017

In Thousand Oaks, California, researchers recently discovered a rare case of a Santa Monica Mountains cougar that successfully crossed U.S. Highway 101. The animal then moved into a quieter range.

The subadult male big cat, named P-55, managed to cross the highway early on July 30. It traveled along the Conjeo Grade 72 Kilometers west of downtown L.A. The animal also crossed State Routes 23 and 118 where it successfully got to the Santa Susana Mountains.

The event is only the fourth ever known crossing of the 101 in the last 15 years. Researchers have been studying the Santa Monica Mountains big cats throughout that time. The population suffers from various threats to their wellbeing. These include a lack of genetic diversity and inbreeding due to the fact that the mountain range is closed off by the Pacific Ocean and L.A. and its western suburbs.

Male mountain lions need vast expanses of individual territory. The area frequented by the animals in question poses a hindrance to dispersal due to the 101 that has three or more lanes facing in each direction. There’s also the fragmented wilds of the mountain range to take into consideration.

The roads in the area are life-threatening to lions. To date, there have been 17 documented road kills since 2002. Wildlife ecologist at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area Seth Riley explained that GPS trackers have observed a pattern of lions coming up to the edge of a freeway and then turning around.

Male lions tend to leave their mothers at around 1.5 years of age. They then go on to find their own territories. Males can live in a territory with many females, however, when males encroach on each other’s territories, there can often be battles to the death. According to information from the park service, studies have shown that Santa Monica mountain lions rarely survive beyond the age of two.

Researchers put a GPS tracking collar on P-55 to track his movements. He was also caught on video in the backyard of a home in Newbury Park the weekend he made his crossing.

Experts are debating whether building a bridge to enable wildlife to safely cross the 101 could help save more of these majestic animals from death.

Readers can review the tagged puma profiles on the National Park Service website, read about the study, and see the mountain lions tracking.

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