Good news is tempered by further evidence of inbreeding
Biologists from the National Park Service recently discovered two mountain lion kittens in the Santa Monica Mountains. The female and male kittens were outfitted with tracking devices after researchers located their den east of Circle X Ranch in Malibu.
The fact that successful reproduction is occurring in the mountains indicates that we have high-quality habitat for mountains lions here, said Dr. Seth Riley, a wildlife expert with the National Park Service.
Unfortunately, the amount of habitat is not sufficient to support a viable population long-term, he said, and when new animals like these are born, especially young males, they run into freeways and development when they try to disperse.
Named Puma 23 and 24, or P-23 and P-24 for short, the kittens were born in mid-June. Although the birth of kittens is a hopeful sign for a region with a relatively small mountain lion population, the kittens are the second documented case of first-order inbreeding in which a father lion mates with his female offspring.
The kittens mother is P-19, who was captured a few months ago and appeared to be pregnant. Researchers subsequently documented denning behavior and sent a team to search for the kittens while the mother was away from the area. DNA testing from the Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA indicates that the father of the kittens is P-12, who is also the father of P-19. P-12 is the only radio-collared mountain lion documented to successfully cross the 101 Freeway, thereby contributing new genetic material to the isolated lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Biologists from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, are now tracking seven mountain lions as part of
a decade-long study to better understand how the animals survive in such an urbanized landscape. With the addition of the two kittens, the agency has studied a total of 24 mountain lions. This is the third litter of kittens documented during the study.
Although the habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains is robust and suitable for hunting and reproduction, the kittens will face many challenges to survive. The limited amount of connectivity between remaining natural areas and the lack of effective wildlife crossings can lead to deadly conflicts over territory and road mortalities.
About Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA) This 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. 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.