Why did another mountain lion cross the road….?

P-32 in mid-February captured by a remote camera in the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.
P-32 in mid-February captured by a remote camera at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.              Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Why, to join his sister, of course. In March, I wrote about P-33’s risky crossing of Highway 101 from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Camarillo area in Ventura County. And now brother P-32 has made it, crossing on April 3 about one mile east of where P-33 traveled.

Both of the 17-month-old big cats are tagged and monitored by the National Park Service, which oversees the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and has been tracking mountain lions there since 2002 in order to study how they manage to survive in such a fragmented habitat.

There’s no evidence that P-32 has actually reunited with his sister. In fact, he’s ventured further into the Simi Hills, crossing State Route 23 and coming close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Who knows, maybe he’s a Republican. Sister P-33 meanwhile turned around at Route 23 and is believed to be ranging close to where she crossed the freeway, said the NPS.

The recent journeys of these two big cats into the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains is a critical step in the lion’s long-term genetic survival in SoCal, says the NPS. Providing a safe crossing of the major barrier that is the 101 may come in the form of a proposed wildlife crossing over the freeway at Liberty Canyon north of Malibu Creek State Park.

There’s been quite a bit of mountain lion news in the L.A. area recently, between the two cats crossing the 101 freeway, and another lion dubbed P-22 (even has his own Facebook page) who lives in Griffith Park and in mid-April was found holed up under a house in Los Feliz. He was eventually hazed out by wildlife officials and is being GPS-monitored once again in the nether reaches of Griffith Park.

P-22’s the famous cat whose photos were featured in National Geographic. He’s also on the second or third of nine lives, having survived a bout of mange contracted from ingesting rat poison. I had the dubious pleasure of researching an infographic on that topic:

rodent infographic041714

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Why did the mountain lion cross the road?

Female lion P-33 at kill site in the western Santa Monica Mountains, where she fed by herself on a deer for about an hour before her mom and brother showed up.   Courtesy of National Park Service
Female lion P-33 at kill site in the western Santa Monica Mountains, where she fed by herself on a deer for about an hour before her mom and brother showed up.
Courtesy of National Park Service

Well, to get to the other side, of course. The “road” being the 101 Freeway, and the big cat being P-33, a 16-month-old who recently left her mother and was the star of some stunning photos from the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. (Beware viewing if you’re squeamish: there are images of a dismembered deer.) The NPS has been tracking her and her two siblings since they were four weeks old.

And now big sis has miraculously made it across the Ventura Freeway. She crossed on the Conejo Grade from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Camarillo area on March 9 sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.

This is hugely significant for mountain lions and the people who research them because a successful crossing of such a huge barrier like the 101 is a sign that there’s hope for maintaining the long-term genetic health of the population.

P33_Crossing_March2015

It’s all about connectivity of habitat for these SoCal mountain lions — being stuck south of the 101 leads to inbreeding and lower genetic diversity. A number of big cats have been killed trying to cross the freeway, including one recently at Liberty Canyon, north of Malibu Creek State Park. This is also where the only other known successful crossing by a lion occurred since the NPS started started studying them in 2002, and it’s where NPS is proposing to build a wildlife crossing over the freeway.

Some Angelenos may recall the famous mountain lion in Griffith Park known as P-22, who was made famous in National Geographic photos in 2013, and was thought to have crossed the 101 and 405 Freeways heading east. He wasn’t wearing a tracking collar and he’s likely not to reproduce because he’s believed to be the only lion there and is hemmed in by so many freeways on the eastern end of the Santa Monicas.

As a hiker in these mountains, it’s always in the back of mind that cougars are in the vicinity, so I’m vigilant the trail. The area where P-33 ended is pretty agricultural but I’m guessing she’s in the mountains north of the freeway just west of Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks. That park, by the way, has some great hiking, including a nice loop hike to Paradise Falls. It seemed like lion territory when I was there, so I’m not surprised P-33 was attracted to it. Here’s hoping she’s not too hemmed in by suburbia (aren’t we all?), avoids cars and people, and lives a long, fruitful life.

Rat poison kills wildlife too…including lions

rodent infographic041714

One of the joys of living in Southern California — other than gloating to friends back East about our fine winter weather — is living so close to nature. But today’s news about the illness of a mountain lion in the Santa Monica Mountains from exposure to rodenticide shows how harmful that closeness can be to wildlife.

I’m proud to say I helped produce the graphic above, which shows how rat poison can work its way up the food chain. Unintended victims like hawks, coyotes, foxes, bobcats and mountain lions prey on the poisoned rats and mice, and the resulting death is not pretty.

The National Park Service has been studying mountain lions in the Santa Monicas since 2002, monitoring their activity in the wildlands that border suburbia. And now one of those lions, a young tagged male dubbed P-22, is the latest victim of rat poison.

P22_Mange_HeadShot_Medium

The Park Service says that P-22, shown above, has a bad case of mange stemming from exposure to rodenticide, which contains a blood-thinning anticoagulant. Mange is a secondary disease caused by the poison, which becomes more lethal as it accumulates in larger animals. The deaths of more than 70 bobcats in the Santa Monicas have been attributed to secondary disease related to rodenticide.

P-22 became a feline celebrity back in December when National Geographic ran photographs of him in Griffith Park with the Hollywood sign as a backdrop. The NPS outfitted him with a GPS collar in 2012 in order to keep track of him. He was recaptured in late March to replace a battery in the collar, and treated with an anti-parasitic medicine. Two lions have died from exposure to rodenticide, but hopefully P-22 will survive.

Hiking in mountain lion territory definitely keeps one on his or her toes, but it’s amazing to know that these creatures exist in our local mountains. P-22 was likely born in the Santa Monicas, says the Park Service, and would have had to cross the 405 and 101 Freeways to make it to Griffith Park. Truly an urban survivor.

Artist and art director extraordinaire Ross Toro and I are working on a brochure that will include the rodenticide info shown here, along with tips for homeowners on wildlife-friendly rodent control. Stay tuned. I’ll post that when it’s ready.