THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The National Park Service says biologists recently discovered two mountain lion kittens in the Santa Monica Mountains west of Los Angeles.
Jeff Sikich, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area biologist, says the births indicate the quality of the habitat is high for such a relatively urban area.
“We continue to see successful reproduction, which indicates that the quality of the natural habitat is high for such a relatively urbanized area,” Sikich said. “But these kittens have many challenges ahead of them, from evading other mountain lions, to crossing freeways, to dealing with exposure to rat poison.”
The park service said Thursday that Sikich suspected the mother, dubbed P-19, may have given birth because GPS showed she was in a limited area for three weeks. Researchers have been tracking her since 2010 when she was just a few weeks old.
Her den was found in a remote area at the west end of the range. Biologists implanted the female and male kittens–dubbed P-46 and P-47–with tracking devices, and DNA testing is underway to identify the father.
“The purpose is to mark these kittens so that we can learn about them as part of our decade-long study to better understand how urbanization is affecting this very vulnerable population,” the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the official group to monitor the lions, wrote on its Facebook page. “Following them from such a young age offers a unique opportunity to understand those challenges. Thankfully, the insights we’ve gained from our study have had a significant impact on conservation efforts and have influenced local decision-making. ”
This is the ninth litter since 2002 to be marked at a den site, and two other litters were marked a few months after their births.
P-19’s two previous litters resulted from inbreeding with her father, which is a danger to the long-term survival of the species in the area. However, P-12 hasn’t been seen since March 2015. Another possibility is a newly discovered male line dubbed P-45.
The park says on its website that a proposed wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway would connect the Santa Monica Mountains to the Sierra Madres, expanding the area and the population, which could reduce inbreeding.