Information about radio–collared mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, Pumas 23-35


P23-P24 were born to parents P19 (mom) and P12 (dad) in June 2012. The female and male kittens were outfitted with tracking devices after researchers located their den east of Circle X Ranch in Malibu. 

Although the birth of kittens was a hopeful sign for a region with a relatively small mountain lion population, the kittens are the second documented case of first-order inbreeding in which a father lion mates with his female offspring.

The kittens' mother is P19, who was captured a few months prior and appeared to be pregnant. Researchers subsequently documented denning behavior and sent a team to search for the kittens while the mother was away from the area. DNA testing from the Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA indicates that the father of the kittens is P12, who is also the father of P19. P12 is the only radio-collared mountain lion documented to successfully cross the 101 Freeway, thereby contributing new genetic material to the isolated lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Although the habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains is robust and suitable for hunting and reproduction, the kittens will face many challenges to survive. The limited amount of connectivity between remaining natural areas and the lack of effective wildlife crossings can lead to deadly conflicts over territory and road mortalities.


P23 with a male deer she'd killed at Mulholland Highway. This picture was taken by cyclists who were lucky to stumble upon the scene! 

P23 , a young female mountain lion (born June 2012), has earned some fame for being spotted with a deer that she'd killed...on Mulholland Hwy!  She was spotted by some weekend cyclists having tackled the deer and attempting to drag it into some dense brush where she could safely feed on it. She was just over 1-year old when she killed this adult male deer, showing that she was on her way to becoming a successful and masterful hunter.  The cyclists, lucky enough to have a rare glimpse into mountain lion biology, were patient and respectful– they stayed a safe distance from P23 and did not disturb her while she dragged the deer off into the brush just off the road where she would feed on it. And P23 did not disturb the cyclists. She concentrated on quickly dragging the deer into thick brush where she could feed on the deer in safety and cover. National Park Service biologists soon after this photo was taken, dragged the deer further into the brush so the kill (and thus P23) would be difficult to find (for the safety of P23). She is fitted with a radiocollar and is being tracked by National Park Service biologists. She uses the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains around Pt.Mugu State Park. 

P24, P23's brother, is being followed by National Park Service biologists with a radio-transmitter that was implanted when he was approximately 1-month old by a veterinarian. The transmitter will soon run out of batteries, and so biologists are working exceedingly hard to try to capture P24 before the transmitter dies. He dispersed from his mom (P19) and primarily uses the eastern end of the Santa Monica Mountains (Topanga State Park area).  


The remote camera photo that revealed the presence of P25 and P26 in the Santa Monica Mountains.

P25 - P26: A wildlife remote camera picture of P25 and P26 in February 2012 around the time that NPS biologists first discovered that P13 had a new litter of kittens. These two mountain lions were captured on August 2, 2012, south of Westlake in the Santa Monica Mountains. As of August 2, they were both around 9 months old and are the offspring of  female mountain lion, P13.  P25 is female while P26 is male.  Genetic analysis to determine which male mountain lion is the father of P25 and P26 confirmed P12 to be the father.  National Park Service biologists first learned about these to young mountain lions using remote wildlife cameras set around the Santa Monica Mountains to monitor wildlife.  P13, one of the radio-collared female mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, was captured on camera with 2 kittens last February!  At 9 months of age, the two young mountain lions were old enough to radio-collar, and are now being tracked by National Park Service biologists.  At the time of their capture in August, they weren't yet completely independent of their mom, P13.  However, they are approaching the age of dispersal (approximately 1.5 years) to establish their own homeranges.  Now, with their new radio-collars, NPS biologists will be able to follow their movements and learn when and where they try to establish their own territories.

P25  was fitted with an expandable radiocollar that slipped off shortly after it was placed on her. Without the collar, biologists were unable to track her movements.  However, because she was less than 1-year old when her collar slipped off, she was very likely still traveling around the mountains with her mother, P13, and her brother, P26, to learn the region, practice hunting, and explore potential areas to establish a homerange. On October 22,2012, a hiker in the Santa Monica Mountains found her dead very nearby a hiking trail in Point Mugu State Park. By time she was discovered, she'd been dead for approximately 1 week, and so she was in an advanced stage of decomposition. Biologists, therefore, were unable to determine the exact cause of death, although anticoagulant rat poison toxicity is suspected to have led to her death.  There was no evidence that she had fought with another mountain lion (the most common source of mortality for mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains) or that she died due to disease.  

P26  dispersed from his mom (P13) around January 8, 2013. Biologists were tracking him using the expandable radiocollar that was placed on him in August 2012. A few months after his dispersal, he would've been large enough to be fitted with a non-expandable (and therefore sturdier) radiocollar, and so biologists hoped to capture him to fit him with a new radiocollar.  However, on March 13, 2013, he fought with female mountain lion P19, and his expandable radiocollar fell off of P26 during the fight. At the time of the fight, P19 had a litter of kittens, and so P19 was likely defending the area where she was denning with her kittens (and therefore protecting her kittens from potential threats).  Without radiocollars, biologists are unable to track the local mountain lions, and so P26's whereabouts are unknown. At the time of his dispersal, he was primarily using the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains (Malibu Creek to Point Mugu), and so he may still be in that area of the mountains. 


P27 is male mountain lion caught in April 2013 in Topanga State Park. At the time of his capture, he was estimated to be around 6-years old.  He is thought to be the offspring of P01 and P06 (another example of first-order inbreeding). As of January 2014, biologists continue to track his movements and his behaviors are exemplary of the average male mountain lion. His homerange encompasses the areas between Malibu Creek State Park east to the I-405 (Topanga State Park area).  He shares the mountains with another male approximately the same age– P12. It appears that they attempt to avoid each other, and so P12's homerange is primarily in the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains while P27 uses areas east of P12's homerange. And he's been feeding on deer, the primary prey of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, and other parts of Southern California.


P28-P31 are kittens that were born to P13 (mom) and P12 (father).  The litter consisted of 3 females and 1 male. P13 started denning in mid-April 2013, meaning she confined her movements to a very small area. This behavior indicates that a female has given birth to a litter of kittens and is caring for them.  Around mid-May 2013, National Park Service biologists and a veterinarian entered the den when P13 was away hunting during early morning hours. The biologists and vet surgically implanted the kittens with radio-transmitters that emit a radio signal.  Using this technology, biologists are able to track the kittens to learn how long they remain with their mother, their survival, their diet, their movement patterns, and potential sources of mortality.  And using this technology, biologists were able to learn that P29 and P31 (both females) died at a young age of abandonment by P13. This is not the first time P13 has abandoned one of her kittens, and in fact, for each litter she has had (at least 3), only 2 kittens have reached the age of dispersal (older than 1-year old). So this may be a pattern for P13, to abandon her kittens, or perhaps there were extenuating circumstances to her choice to abandon P29 and P31.  P28 (female) and P30 (male) remain alive, and are still traveling with their mom. Mountain lions typically disperse from their mother around 1.5-years old. For now (as of January 2014) they use P13's homerange/territory, which is the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains (around Pt. Mugu State Park).  Biologists continue to follow the kittens using the radio-transmitters that were implanted in the kittens, and hope to get some remote camera photos of the kittens to monitor their growth. Once the kittens have reached near-adult size, biologists will capture P28 and P30 to fit them with GPS-enabled radiocollars.


P32-P34 is the latest litter of kittens that have been sampled by National Park Service biologists. They were born to P19 (mother) and P12 (father) in mid-October, 2013.  This litter of kittens represents another case of first-order inbreeding. P12 is also P19's father, and so P12 is both the father and the grandfather of P32-P34.  Whether P12 recognizes P19 as his daughter is unknown. But because lions are hemmed into the very small (relative to the territorial needs of mountain lions) Santa Monica Mountains region by major freeways, these mountain lions have limited choice in who they can mate with. Biologists visited the kitten den on November 20, 2013 during early morning hours when P19 was away hunting.  The goal was to determine how many kittens were present in the litter, determine the sex of the kittens, collect samples for genetic analysis, eartag the kittens, and to take basic body measurements on the kittens. All of this data collection occurred at the den site, and the kittens were immediately placed back in the den once data on each kitten was collected. P32 is a male, while P33 and P34 are females. Although the National Park Service has, in the past, implanted mountain lion kittens with radio-transmitters so that the kittens could be tracked, they were unable to do so for this latest batch of kittens due to a lack of funding and personnel that would be required to track the kittens. In order to monitor the survival of these kittens, biologists plan to put cameras up at P19 kill sites (see 'Mountain lion basics' for more information about how biologists do that) to monitor how many kittens are traveling with P19 and to monitor their growth.  The National Park Service hopes (funding dependent!) to capture them when they are older, but before they disperse from their mother in order to place expandable radiocollars on each of the kittens. Biologists would then be able to collect detailed movement data on each of these individuals. 

P32 – The Second Mountain Lion Crosses 101 Freeway and Disperses from Santa Monica Mountains

An image of P32 captured in the Santa Monica Mountains. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

An image of P32 captured in the Santa Monica Mountains. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

NPS Press Release: Following the example set by his sister, a young male mountain lion known as P-32 recently became the second big cat in less than a month to cross the 101 Freeway and disperse north, out of the Santa Monica Mountains. 

Prior to the recent crossings, researchers with the National Park Service had only documented one successful crossing of the 101 Freeway during the previous 13 years of the study, when P-12 crossed from north to south in early 2009. P-32 is the first male in the study to successfully disperse out of the Santa Monica Mountains.

“Almost all of the young male mountain lions we’ve studied die prematurely, either from a vehicle collision or after a fight with a  dominant adult male,” said Dr. Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “It’s hugely significant that P-32 was able to disperse out of the Santa Monica Mountains so that he has a chance to avoid larger males and eventually establish his own territory.” 

P-32 crossed the 101 Freeway early on the morning of April 3, less than a month after his sister, P-33, ventured across. Both animals crossed on the far western end of the Santa Monica Mountains, near the border of Thousand Oaks and Camarillo. Although the exact path is unclear, GPS data indicate P-32 crossed the freeway about one mile east of P-33. Biologists believe both animals dashed across the actual roadway, rather than through a culvert or other underpass. As is the case all along the 101 Freeway along the Santa Monica Mountains, there are very few suitable and safe crossing locations for wildlife in this area.

Unlike his sister, P-32 then navigated his way across State Route 23, near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, and into the core natural area of  the Simi Hills. P-33, on the other hand, traveled right up to State Route 23 and turned around, returning back to near where she originally crossed the 101 Freeway.

The National Park Service originally marked  P-32 and P-33, along with a female sibling known as P-34, when they were four weeks old. Now approximately 17 months old, these two were featured in a series of stunning photographs shortly before they dispersed from their mother. 

Providing connections between the big cats of the Santa Monica Mountains and the populations in the Simi Hills, Santa Susana Mountains and beyond is critical for maintaining the long-term genetic health of the population. The Liberty Canyon area remains the most ideal location for a proposed wildlife crossing across the 101 Freeway because the habitat connection to the north is the strongest. There is also an existing underpass for wildlife under Highway 118 north of Liberty Canyon, with contiguous protected open space in between.

 

P33 – The First Mountain Lion Crosses 101 Freeway and Disperses from Santa Monica Mountains

An image of P33 captured in the Santa Monica Mountains. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

NPS Press Release:  For only the second time since the National Park Service began studying local mountain lions in 2002, researchers have documented a successful crossing of the 101 Freeway.
The young female cat, known as P-33, also became the first mountain lion among more than 35 studied to disperse out of the Santa Monica Mountains. The other big cat to accomplish this feat back in 2009, P-12, crossed in the opposite direction, from the north to the south.

"The GPS points show that the lions we're tracking frequently come right up to the edges of the freeway and then turn around," said Dr. Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. "After more than 10 years of seeing the same pattern in our data, it is very cool to see a lion figure out how to cross the freeway and reach other natural areas to the north."

Providing connections between the big cats of the Santa Monica Mountains and the populations to the north, including in the Santa Susana Mountains and beyond, is critical for maintaining the long-term genetic health of the population. Previous National Park Service research has documented genetic differences north and south of the 101 Freeway, as well as multiple cases of first-order interbreeding.

P-33's dispersal was also significant because it occurred in the Camarillo area, on the farthest western end of the mountains. Although the exact path is unclear, she crossed on the Conejo Grande (see map) on the morning of March 9, sometime between midnight and 2:00 a.m.

Map showing approximately where P33 crossed the 101 Freeway. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

"It's remarkable that this lion made it across the 101 alive," said Linda Parks, Ventura County Supervisor and chair of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy. "We are fortunate to have vast areas of undeveloped open space for these animals to roam, but we need safe crossing locations for them to keep motorists and animals safe from collisions."

The previous successful crossing, as well as one recent attempt that ended in a lion being struck and killed by a vehicle, both occurred near Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills. The Liberty Canyon area remains the most ideal location for a proposed wildlife crossing across the 101 Freeway because the habitat connection to the north is the strongest. There is also an existing underpass for wildlife north of Liberty Canyon, under Highway 118.

Efforts to construct the Liberty Canyon crossing received a boost earlier in the year when the State Coastal Conservancy awarded Caltrans $1 million to conduct the environmental assessment and develop initial designs.

P-33 is a 16-month-old female that had only recently left her mother and was recently the subject of a series of stunning remote camera photographs. The National Park Service has been tracking P-33 and her two siblings since they were four weeks old.


Mountain Lion Was Exposed to Multiple Poisons, Tests Show
P-34’s body was recently found by a hiker in Point Mugu State Park

NPS Press Release: Lab results confirm that the mountain lion known as P-34 was exposed to multiple compounds of anticoagulant rodenticide, a form of rat poison. The subadult female, tracked as part of a National Park Service study, was found by a hiker in Point Mugu State Park on September 30. 

“This is the latest indication that local wildlife continues to be exposed to these rodent  poisons,” said Dr. Seth Riley, wildlife ecologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “We hope that P-34’s death will continue to raise awareness about how anticoagulant rodenticides work their way up the food chain, often with deadly effects.” 

The lab found both first and second-generation anticoagulants in the animal’s liver. Recent legislation banned the retail sale of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, but they are still available for use by licensed applicators. First-generation anticoagulant rodenticides are widely available for purchase. The compounds found in P-34’s system were brodifacoum, bromadiolone, chlorophacinone, difethialone and diphacinone.

Although it’s not known exactly how P-34 ingested the poisons, researchers believe mountain lions are exposed through secondary or tertiary poisoning, meaning that they consume an animal that ate the bait, such as a ground squirrel, or an animal that ate an animal that consumed the bait, such as a coyote. See infographic on how rodenticide can work its way up the food chain. 

P-34’s death marks the study’s third case of mortality directly from rodenticide poisoning, though National Park Service researchers have documented the presence of the compounds in 12 out of 13 mountain lions that they have tested, including in a three-month-old kitten. 

The California Animal Health & Food Safety Lab also found that P-34 had contracted a bacteria known as leptospira. Leptospira has been found in other mountain lions, but is more common in rats and canids. The bacteria can only be transferred to humans if there is contact with the exposed animal’s urine. Although she had some kidney disease from the leptospirosis, the bacteria did not appear to play a role in her death.  

P-34 made headlines last December when she was discovered lounging under a trailer in a mobile home park in Newbury Park. Earlier that day a resident snapped a stunning photo of P-34 walking in her backyard. Her sibling, P-32, was struck and killed by a vehicle on Interstate 5 this August after making a remarkable journey out of the Santa Monica Mountains.


P35 at the time of capture being radio-collared by mountain lion biologist Jeff Sikich (right).

P35 was captured in the middle of the Santa Susana Mountains on April 15th 2014.  She appeared healthy weighing 43kg and estimated to be around 4-5 years old.  We are currently still following her with a working GPS radio-collar that collects 8 locations/day.  She has mostly been using the middle of the mountains around the Oat Mountain area.

P35's radio-collar was purchased with funds from the Caltrans funded Highway 126 animal movement study that NPS is currently doing.  Five coyotes and five bobcats have also been GPS radio-collared in the area to learn about movements along and across Highway 126.  This is the 5th radio-collared mountain lion that NPS has followed in the Santa Susana Mountains as part of our long term study to better understand the ecology and movement patterns of mountain lions in and around Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.  The Santa Susana Mountains represents the most northerly part of the NPS mountain lion study area, and a critical stepping-stone between the Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills to the south and Los Padres National Forest to the north, which we assume has a healthy, source mountain lion population.  We know very little about whether, where, and how often lions are able to navigate barriers to movement such as Highway 126 and the 118 Freeway.  We hope to continue to follow P35 and capture an additional lion this winter to understand the home ranges and movements of these lions, because we believe connections to the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains are critical for the long-term genetic viability of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains.

An image of P35 before she was radio-collared- image captured on remote camera.

An image of P35 before she was radio-collared- image captured on remote camera.