Environment

Mountain lion killed on Hwy. 101 near San Luis Obispo

A mountain lion was struck and killed by a vehicle on Highway 101 near San Luis Obispo on Thursday, April 26, 2018.
A mountain lion was struck and killed by a vehicle on Highway 101 near San Luis Obispo on Thursday, April 26, 2018.

A mountain lion was hit and killed on Highway 101 Thursday night when it attempted to cross the road near the San Luis Bay Drive exit, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The lion, which was struck by a vehicle traveling southbound around 8:45 p.m., was a young male about 2 years old and weighing about 85 to 90 pounds, said Bob Stafford, a wildlife biologist with State Fish and Wildlife.

The agency gathers deceased lions to perform necropsies and learn about the state's population. On Friday, the cougar's body was in a local agency freezer.

"It didn't look unhealthy. He did have some parasites, some ticks. Didn't look very skinny or anything," Stafford said.

San Luis Obispo resident Matthew Wilkins was driving in the area when the collision happened. He pulled over to take a look and make sure the driver of the vehicle was OK. He said the big cat was about the size of a German Shepherd.

It was "exhilarating ... but sad," said Wilkins, who took photos of the wild cat. "I know the population numbers and movements of lions are being tracked in our area, so I wanted to contribute."

Researchers working in the county this year had found evidence of at least five lions living in the Irish Hills area near where the lion was killed, including a mother and her two cubs. So far, they've ear-tagged a young female cub in that area and affixed radio-tracking collars to two young male adults in the eastern part of the county.

It doesn't appear that the deceased lion is one of two cubs that was seen in a nearby neighborhood earlier this year because it is about one year older.

"Maybe we need a wildlife tunnel under the 101. I know they've been successful elsewhere," Wilkins said.

There has been work to help guide animals safely across Highway 101 on the Cuesta Grade — which Stafford called "the spine of the Los Padres." Caltrans installed a fence along the road there to direct wildlife to safe crossings, such as culverts or an underpass built for the movement of cattle.

How and where animals move across highways to travel through the land here in San Luis Obispo County has been a topic of a decade of research led by John Perrine, a Cal Poly biology professor.

"Nobody wants to hit a lion with their car. Nobody wants to hit a bear. So, how do we keep mountain lions and bears out of the highway but allow them to move across the landscape?" Perrine said in a recent interview.

Across the West, conservationists are talking about the need for more wildlife crossings, which are meant to improve wildlife movement and promote genetic diversity through reproduction across populations.

A recent report from the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy and UC Davis recently made recommendations for proposed wildlife overpasses where populations of mountain lions isolated in the Santa Ana and Santa Monica mountains are seemingly trapped because of barriers like busy roads.

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