By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
There are three new mountain lion kittens in the Santa Monica Mountains, according to National Park Service biologists, after P-54 gave birth to two males and a female.
P-54, a 3-year-old mountain lion, gave birth to the litter, who have been designated P-82, P-83 and P-84.
“It’s always good news to discover a new litter of kittens, but biologists are hopeful for another reason,” a representative from the National Park Service shared in a statement. “The presumed father, male mountain lion P-63, may have just brought something that is much needed into the Santa Monica Mountains—genetic diversity.”
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area encompasses more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Part of the National Park System, the area includes a network of local, state and federal parks.
The region has struggled with mountain lion inbreeding for a long time, with a wildlife crossing planned to be constructed over the 101 freeway near Liberty Canyon in hopes of alleviating some of the issues and allowing for mountain lions to cross the freeway that intersects their living area safely.
“The bridge would provide a connection between the small population of lions in the Santa Monica Mountains and the large and genetically diverse populations to the north,” according to the NPS statement.
The National Park Service reports that more than four months ago, P-63, who is the only adult male radio-collared mountain lion currently living in the Santa Monica Mountains, was repeatedly located with P-54 over a span of two days. This marks an indication of a mating interaction.
Ninety days later, researchers noticed a series of localized GPS locations that indicated P-54 was either feeding at a kill site or that she had given birth.
“The last litter of kittens that we marked at a den was from P-19, during the summer of 2018,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist who has been studying mountain lions for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area since 2002, in the statement. “That litter was likely the product of inbreeding, which is just one of the serious problems facing the isolated mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains south of the 101 freeway. We’re hoping this circumstance is totally different, but only genetic testing will tell us for sure.”
Park Service biologists have since weighed and examined the trio of kittens, determining that all appear healthy. They have each been given an ear tag, which helps identify them in the future, at approximately 19 days old.
Genetic samples have been taken for testing and the kittens have been returned to the den.
The mother mountain lion, born in January 2017, has been tracked by biologists in the Santa Monica Mountains for most of her life.
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