DOWNTOWN DNA from a male mountain lion killed by Santa Monica police last month confirms that the animal was genetically linked to the local population and was not an exotic pet, officials with the National Park Service announced Thursday.
More importantly, the DNA results from the Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA show that the cougar possessed genetic material from cougars living north of the 101 Freeway, yet he was found in Downtown Santa Monica, a rare bright spot for a group of animals that is suffering from an extreme lack of genetic diversity, officials said.
Out of concern for public safety, Santa Monica police shot the animal on the morning of May 22 after an attempt to sedate it failed. The 3-year-old, 95-pound cougar wandered into the courtyard of an office building on Second Street, just a block from the popular Third Street Promenade.
A necropsy found that the animal died as a result of a gunshot wound.
Seth Riley, an expert on urban wildlife with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said the cougar was valuable because it may have mated with other lions in the Santa Monica Mountains south of the 101 Freeway and therefore contributed unique genetic diversity to the genetically homogenous population in the area.
The biggest threat to mountain lions in this region is the loss and fragmentation of their habitat because of past and current urbanization, Riley said. Over the long term, isolation of a small population of large carnivores such as mountain lions can result in inbreeding, reduced genetic diversity and even significant genetic defects.
Lions from the Santa Monica Mountains are hemmed in by the 101 and 405 freeways, making the lack of genetic diversity a serious threat to their long-term survival.
Biologists speculate the Santa Monica lion may be the son of Puma 12, known as P-12. P-12 is the only mountain lion documented to successfully cross the 101 Freeway, thereby contributing new genetic material to the isolated population in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Biologists are currently tracking five mountain lions as part of a decade-long study to better understand how the animals survive in such an urbanized landscape. The study has already documented cases of first order inbreeding in which a father lion mated with his offspring.
National Park Serve biologists, along with other community groups, will participate in a meeting with the Santa Monica Police Department in late June to help develop a strategy for dealing with wild animals if they wander into the city.
The DNA results do not shed light on why the lion ventured so far into Santa Monica. However, that behavior is typical of the dispersal stage during which young adult male lions branch out looking for new territory because of threats from larger male lions or in search of a mate.
Large carnivores like mountain lions need substantial space anywhere from 50 to 150 square miles.
Based on information gathered from GPS collars, at least two other male mountain lions have cross from the Santa Monica Mountains south of Sunset Boulevard, officials said.