Editorial: Building a better future for the P-99, the other mountain lions

The most recent mountain lion to be drafted into the National Park Service study of southern California cougars is a young female, possibly 2-3 years old, with hazel eyes and a cold gaze on the photo which serves as his official portrait. Of course, she can’t tell us what she’s thinking, but the gravity of her expression is appropriate – life for a cougar in and around Los Angeles is intimidating.

She was captured on September 8 in the mountains of western Santa Monica and officially nicknamed P-99, meaning she is the 99th lion to be part of the Parks Service’s 19-year study of these amazing creatures. Lions are fitted with GPS radio collars that let scientists know where they are going, what they are doing, how they are surviving, and when they are not.

There is something exciting about her being P-99. The National Park Service is only a lion away from the P-100. Will there be champagne and cake (or deer meat) for the 100th lucky subject, no matter how unsuspecting, or maybe just the tireless scientists and researchers at the National Park Service who followed them in and around the Santa Monica Mountains?

This does not mean that there are 99 lions studying. Most of the study are now dead. And there are other lions in the area that have never been captured and put on collars. Today, there are 13 collared lions in the study as well as a group of kittens mostly born in the summer of 2020 who have ear tags and P numbers but no GPS collars when they are so young and growing. (When they are older, they can be recaptured and fitted with a collar.) At around 12 years old, P-22, Griffith Park’s famous mountain lion, is currently the oldest and most studied cougar.

Survival takes courage and luck. Over the past two decades, cats have been poisoned by eating prey that ingested toxic rodenticides and were killed by traffic on roads and highways. They were injured by forest fires and fought other lions in the territory. Killing cattle has caused them huge problems with ranchers, some of whom have applied for permits to kill them. Surrounded by highways, lions that normally have large ranges (a male’s territory ranges from 150 to 200 square miles) cannot travel to other places to search for genetically different mates, and some are now showing signs of inbreeding.

But as P-99 grows into adulthood, she might find life in the urban, wild California nexus easier to navigate. In January, Caltrans plans to inaugurate an $ 87 million wildlife crossing on Highway 101 at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills. The bridge, landscaped with native vegetation, would offer lions and other animals a safe alternative to crossing a dangerous eight-lane highway to get from one habitat to another and hopefully find genetically mates. various. The funds to pay for the crossing come from a combination of public, philanthropic and other private sources.

There are other efforts to help this population of cougars survive. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Mountain Lion Foundation have asked the California Fish and Game Commission to list mountain lion subpopulations along the central coast and in southern California as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act. The commission voted last year to study the animals for listing, and that review is expected to be completed early next year. Fortunately, during the review period, animals in these subpopulations enjoy the protection of the Endangered Species Act, which limits permissions to kill them. Experts are working with pastoralists to find ways to deter lion attacks on livestock. A clever approach is to paint eyes on the backs of cattle to make lions believe they have been detected by their prey.

It is a rare and wonderful thing to live among wild creatures in an urban landscape like Los Angeles. Hopefully P-99 will live to have kittens to fill the cougar list.

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