Mountain lion successfully crosses busy SoCal freeway

LOS ANGELES — Achieving a feat that a human being might even find difficult, a mountain lion successfully managed to cross Interstate 405 in the Sepulveda Pass, National Park Service officials announced Thursday.

Researchers believe the lion known as P-61 managed to traverse the freeway from west to east between 2 and 4 a.m. July 19. According to the NPS, another lion named P-18 was fatally struck by a vehicle in the same area of freeway while attempting a crossing in 2011, and another lion that was not being tracked by researchers was struck and killed in 2009.

The only other lion known to have crossed I-405 is Griffith Park’s famed resident lion P-22. That lion was not being tracked with a GPS collar at the time, so little is known about where and when he made the trek. Researchers say DNA testing shows P-22 was born in the Santa Monica Mountains, so he must have crossed both the 405 and 101 Freeways to have reached Griffith Park.

“Although P-61 successfully crossed the 405, his feat is a reminder of how challenging Southern California’s road network is for mountain lions and other wildlife as well,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Others haven’t been so lucky.”

The issue of extensive development and freeways acting as physical barriers to migration have long been identified as threats to the continued survival of mountain lions in the area. At least one study has suggested that the lions will be extinct within 50 years due to the lack of breeding partners, leading to rampant inbreeding among the current population.

P-61 now inhabits an area between the 405 and 101 Freeways, where researchers say at least one other lion resides. That lion is not outfitted with a GPS collar and has only been seen on surveillance footage in the area over the past five years.

“It will be interesting to see if P-61 stays in the area, whether he decides to challenge the uncollared lion or if he heads back to the other side of the freeway,” Sikich said. “Although it’s a relatively small area of habitat, it’s certainly larger than the Griffith Park area and does have a patchwork of natural areas.”

P-61 is believed to be about 4 years old. The lion was first captured and fitted with a GPS collar in October 2017.

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