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New Mountain Lion Found in Santa Monica Mountains

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P-45, looking good | Photo: National Park Service

There's a great big cat roaming the western end of the Santa Monicas, according to the National Park Service. An adult male puma previously undocumented by biologists was captured and collared by Park Service biologists in November, bringing the possible total of adult male cats in the Santa Monicas to three.

The mountain lion, dubbed "P-45," is thought to be about two or three years old. He's a big fella; at 150 pounds, P4-5 is larger than all but one other mountain lion found in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area since Park Service biologists started studying the range's big cats in 2002. (The first puma recorded, P-1, also weighed in at 150 pounds.)

According to Park Service biologist Jeff Sikich , P-45 has been spending his time since being collared on November 21 roaming the relatively undeveloped west end of the range toward Ventura. Biologists think the Santa Monica Mountains may only hold enough territory for one or two adult male pumas, raising the possibility that P-45 may have displaced one of the range's two other known males.

The famous and much-photographed P-22 lives in Griffith Park at the far eastern end of the range, separated from the Santa Monica Mountains NRA by the developed Hollywood Hills and Interstate 405. Another male, P-27, maintains a range in the Santa Monicas west of Sepulveda Pass. A third, P-12, was last known to occupy the same part of the range as the newly discovered lion. P-12 made news when he successfully crossed the Ventura Freeway from the north in 2009 to find territory in the Santa Monicas.

P-12's radio collar stopped working some years ago, but he's been spotted via camera trap on occasion, and has fathered several litters of kittens, including one photogenic but ill-fated litter of kittens two of which have succumbed to the main perils facing mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains: P-32 was killed attempting to cross I-5 near Castaic in August, while his sister P-34 succumbed to chronic poisoning from household rodenticides in September.

Until P-12 is spotted again, biologists won't know whether the larger, younger P-45 muscled P-12 out of the west end of the Santa Monicas.

"During the course of our study, we've only been aware of one or two adult males at any given time in the Santa Monica Mountains." said Sikich. "We're very interested to learn whether there are now three adult males or whether P-45 successfully challenged one of his competitors."

The National Park Service is tracking 11 mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. The range, isolated from nearby puma habitat by urban development and freeways, is essentially an incubator for puma inbreeding; with only very limited and dangerous access to other habitat, lions in the Santa Monicas have only very limited connection to their colleagues north of the 101. An attempt by Caltrans and wildlife advocates to design a wildlife crossing near Liberty Canyon in the western San Fernando Valley is in progress, but it will be several years at best before that migration corridor can be reopened to the big cats.

The Park Service is conducting DNA tests to determine whether P-45 was born locally, or whether he made the dangerous crossing into the range from elsewhere.

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