SM MOUNTAINS — Two mountain lion kittens were recently discovered by the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains, a hopeful sign given the small number of pumas living in the area, federal officials said Thursday.
The female and male kittens were given tracking devices after their discovery in their den near Circle X Ranch in Malibu. The two kittens, Puma 23 and 24, or P-23 and P-24, were born in mid-June.
“The fact that successful reproduction is occurring in the mountains indicates that we have high-quality habitat for mountains lions here,” Dr. Seth Riley, a wildlife expert with the National Park Service, said in a press release. “Unfortunately, the amount of habitat is not sufficient to support a viable population long-term, and when new animals like these are born, especially young males, they run into freeways and development when they try to disperse.”
That was most likely the case for a young male mountain lion that was shot and killed by Santa Monica police in May after it made its way into the courtyard of an office building located just a block away from the popular Third Street Promenade. Widlife experts believe that cat was looking to establish his own territory.
The kittens represent the second documented case of first-order inbreeding — their father, P-12, mated with his female offspring, P-19, according to DNA testing from the Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA. P-19 was captured a few months ago and appeared pregnant. When she was away from the area, researchers sent a team to find the kittens.
P-12 is also the only radio-collared mountain lion who has successfully crossed the 101 Freeway. In doing so he contributed new genetic material to the otherwise isolated lion population, officials said.
Biologists from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area are tracking seven mountain lions for their decade-long study of animal survival in urban areas. The agency has now studied 24 mountain lions, including these newborn kittens, and they are the third litter of kittens this study has documented.
These kittens will have a difficult time surviving, even though the Santa Monica Mountains are a suitable habitat, because of the lack of effective wildlife crossings, officials said.
There are efforts underway to build a new wildlife crossing in the form of a tunnel under the 101 Freeway through which wild animals could cross to get from one area to another. Officials from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles and In Defense of Animals have stated their interest in the project, which is still awaiting proper funding.