On Dec. 20 a 7-month-old mountain lion cub known as P-52 was struck and killed by a vehicle on the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway just west of the Venture County line near Kuehner Drive, said Kate Kuykendall of the National Park Service.
Before construction of the 101 and 118 freeways, mountain lions roamed freely through undeveloped space from Malibu to the Los Padres National Forest.
Now the freeways present unintentional barriers that have isolated cougars in the Santa Monica mountains from the large mountain lion population to the north, leading to not only inbreeding, but since 2002 the roadways have resulted in 14 deaths, including the kitten P-52, whose own mother P-39, was struck and killed on Dec. 3 a few miles away from where her offspring died.
Kuykendall said P-50, P-51 and P-52 had been photographed (see Below) when they were fitted with ear tags at 4 weeks old. The tags are not tracking devices, but are used for identifying the creatures in photographs and videos, sightings and in the event of death, she said.
When P-39 was killed, the kittens were given poor odds of surviving on their own, and while it remains unclear if they have acquired the essential hunting and other skills to reach adulthood, "at seven to eight months, they are considerably less helpless," Kuykendall said.
Since this area's mountain lion population is unable to reach the north these remaining lions are in serious trouble, estimates suggest there may be as few as 15 left in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area south of the 101.
The width of the 101 and suburban development of the West San Fernando Valley to the Conejo grade evidently have proved intimidating to cougars, and few attempts to cross. As a solution, the Parks Service has proposed a wildlife bridge by Liberty Canyon, and is now working on plans with the overseer of California's freeways, Caltrans.
Unless something is done the future survival of mountain lions in this area is imperiled, leading some experts to estimate that the species could die off in as little as 50 years.
If movement of these mountain lions is reestablished It's believed the outlook would improve substantially through natural breeding with animals roaming from the north.
Wildlife advocacy groups, meantime, are attempting to raise $10 million this year to keep the project moving forward.