California’s cougars need help crossing the street

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A young cougar feeding on a deer. Courtesy of the National Wildlife Foundation

A young cougar feeding on a deer. Courtesy of the National Park Service

The movement to preserve California’s mountain lion population might finally be getting the push it needs. A campaign called Save LA Cougars, which is sponsored by the National Wildlife Foundation, is hoping to make crossing the street a little bit safer for the animals.

The ultimate goal of the campaign is to build a wildlife crossing either over or underneath the 101 freeway in Agoura Hills. According to the organizers, mountain lions’ ability to spread into new territories is critical to their survival.

When mountain lions reach the age of two or three they instinctively disperse as part of the mating process. But a section of the 101 Freeway that cuts through the Santa Monica Mountains has made this dispersal nearly impossible for the cougars, essentially trapping them on one side of the freeway or the other. According to Beth Pratt, California Director of the National Wildlife Foundation, tracking collar data shows that the cats approach the freeway and then turn back. There is no easy way for them to cross the heavily traveled eight-lane commuter route. Early this year, two kittens less than a year old were run over on the more narrow 126 Freeway.

Adult cougars are solitary animals, and the shrinking of their territory has led to higher rates of cougars killing one another. The population has also seen reduced genetic diversity and more instances of inbreeding.

One lucky and enterprising cougar successfully made the journey into Griffith Park, but is now stuck there without a mate. Unfortunately, the park won’t support another big cat, and P-22 cannot be transplanted without the risk of encroaching on another cougar’s territory.

See photos of P-22 here.