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Mountain lion breeding affected by 101 Freeway

Some mountain lions are trapped in an area in the Santa Monica Mountains, unable to cross the 101 Freeway.
January 9, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Some mountain lions are trapped in a relatively small area in the Santa Monica Mountains, unable to cross the 101 Freeway. Crossing the freeway could be critical to their survival.

Sightings of mountain lions lurking around homes, sometimes attacking pets, have people worried, but researchers who study these large cats say domestic animals are not their normal prey.

"We've also investigated 400-plus kills by mountain lions, and we've yet to find a single one that was a pet, fortunately," said wildlife ecologist Seth Riley. "That doesn't mean it never happens."

Not only are the alleged attacks on domestic pets alarming, but so too is how these large animals are struggling to thrive in the Santa Monica Mountains.

With the 101 slicing a path right through the middle, male mountain lions are having to search for mates too close to home. Case in point: three mountain lion kittens were born last month.

"In this case, the kittens were the result of a father mating with his daughter," said Riley. "And that is something we've seen more than once, actually. That's very close inbreeding."

Doctors say the kittens appear healthy.

Reduced genetic diversity is one problem, and a low adult male population is another. Riley says 15 male adult mountains lions, at the most, roam the Santa Monica Mountains.

He says there is a possible remedy. Caltrans, state parks and others wildlife conservationists are trying to figure out a safe passage for all wildlife in Agoura Hills.

"To try to get some kind of tunnel or maybe a wildlife overpass would be especially effective so that animals could get back and forth," said Riley.

A location on the 101 at the Liberty Canyon Road exit is ideal for crossing because the freeway is flanked by natural habitat.

"What's really going to be critical in the long run is maintaining or increasing connectivity between the Santa Monica Mountains and areas to the north, where we know there's bigger populations of mountain lions and more genetic diversity," said Riley.

Researchers have followed more than 30 mountain lions over their 10-year study, and only one time has a large cat successfully crossed the 101.


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