Safe crossings for L.A.’s big cats

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Photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
The December 2103 cover of National Geographic. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

When photographer Steve Winter set out to photograph California’s elusive mountain lions, he didn’t know he’d spark a movement.

He spent 15 months trying to get the shot of a cougar, known as P-22, crossing in front of the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park. It debuted in National Geographic’s December 2013 issue. Using a remote, infrared beam sensor camera, he snagged another shot of the same cat with L.A. as the backdrop.

In the years since, those images have helped raise awareness about the plight of big cats trapped in urban environments. Now, state agencies, officials and wildlife advocates are urging the state to approve a privately funded wildlife overpass over Highway 101 at Liberty Canyon.

The L.A. Times reports the 165-foot-wide, 200-foot-long overpass would connect the Santa Monica Mountains on the south with the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.


“There’s no other way to do it,” said Winters, who’s now on a nationwide tour with a stop in Santa Barbara, sharing his images and stories. “You need access so these animals can move across the barriers we humans put there. They need new genes to come through.” Cats that are trapped in small areas can become genetically inbred, which puts the population at risk.

Winter has noticed another phenomenon affecting cats in urban environments. More and more homeowners are raising animals on their property, and not housing them properly at night.

“This has become a problem in Malibu,” he said. If animals like sheep and goats aren’t protected at night in a proper pen, cougars can get in.

“Mountain lions have no desire for human interaction,” said Winter, but improperly protected pets can lead to dangerous situations for both humans and their animals.