California

Los Angeles freeway claims 3rd mountain lion in 2 months — this time, another kitten

P-50, P-51 and P-52, offspring of P-39, were found this summer in their den in the Santa Susana Mountains.
P-50, P-51 and P-52, offspring of P-39, were found this summer in their den in the Santa Susana Mountains.

Tragedy has once again visited a pack of mountain lions struggling to survive in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Wildlife officials said Friday that a female mountain lion kitten known as P-51 was struck and killed by a car while crossing the 118 Freeway — the same freeway that claimed the lives of her mother and sibling late last year.

The carcass of the 8-month-old kitten was retrieved in Simi Valley by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Jan. 14. It was found just one mile east of Rocky Peak near Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, according to wildlife officials.

“Unfortunately this case illustrates the challenges for mountain lions in the region, where roads are both major barriers to movement and potential sources of mortality,” wildlife ecologist Seth Riley said in a statement. “The area where these animals were killed is part of a critical wildlife corridor that connects the genetically isolated population in the Santa Monica Mountains to what is considered the nearest source population, in Los Padres National Forest.”

The kitten’s mother — a mountain lion known as P-39 — was struck and killed by a car on Dec. 3 east of Rocky Peak, as well. Weeks later, the kitten’s brother — P-52 — was also killed by vehicle on the same freeway. He was 7 months old.

P-51 and P-52 belonged to an adorable trio of blue-eyed kittens who gained national fame when their images were widely circulated on the Internet last summer. The kittens were about 4 weeks old when they were discovered in their den June 22.

Now, only one of the three kittens is alive: P-50.

Researchers had been tracking the mother of the litter since April 2015. She was the first mountain lion to be caught by researchers and outfitted with a collar to track her movements. The mother’s remains have not been found, although researchers have recovered her tracking collar.

After their mother’s death, wildlife officials feared that the kittens hadn’t developed the hunting skills to survive without her.

But so far, it looks like their mother taught them a thing or two about hunting.

A necropsy performed on P-52 showed that he weighed only 24 pounds, although he had adequate fat reserves. He had also recently fed on a skunk, which wildlife officials is typical prey for a young lion learning to hunt.

“Whether or not these kittens had the ability to feed was a subject of much discussion,” Marc Kenyon, the department’s mountain lion conservation program coordinator, said in statement. “Apparently, their mother had taught them predatory skills within their first six to seven months, and we’re hopeful the necropsy on P-51 confirms this, too.”

According to wildlife officials, P-51 is the 17th known case of a mountain lion being killed on a freeway or road since researchers began tracking the animals in the Santa Monica Mountains since 2002.

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