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Mountain Lion Kitten Killed on Freeway

Two of the three kittens born to P-39. One of the males, P-52, was killed Dec. 20. |  Photo taken June 2016, National Park Service
Two of the three kittens born in the Santa Monica Mountains in Spring of 2016. One of the males, P-52, was killed Dec. 20. | Photo taken June 2016, National Park Service

A male mountain lion kitten was struck and killed by a vehicle along the same stretch of Los Angeles-area freeway where his mother died, the National Park Service reported Thursday.

The 7-month-old cat known as P-52 was struck and killed by a vehicle on Dec. 20 on the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway just west of the Ventura County line near Kuehner Drive, Kate Kuykendall of the National Park Service told City News Service.

The kitten's mother, P-39, was struck and killed on Dec. 3 a few miles away, Kuykendall said.

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The young male's death was the 14th known case of a mountain lion being killed on a freeway or road in the National Park Service's study area since 2002.

Its mother had three kittens, according to the NPS, which has been studying and tracking mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains.

The cub's remains were collected by workers for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which will perform a necropsy in the coming weeks "to determine whether the animal was otherwise healthy," Kuykendall said.

Believed to be about 5 years old, P-39 had been fitted with a GPS collar in April 2015 and was known to have had at least two litters of kittens, including the three born about seven months ago and known as P-50, P-51 and P- 52, according to the NPS.

P-39 licks her lips and takes a break from a meal. Photo taken in spring 2015. | National Park Service
P-39 licks her lips and takes a break from a meal. Photo taken in spring 2015. | National Park Service

The mother lion had generally stayed in the area north of the 118 Freeway, but she crossed the freeway a few days before she was struck and killed just east of the Rocky Peak exit, which is east of where P-52 was killed. It's unclear if the kittens were with her when she was struck.

The mother lion's death was not reported to the NPS until several days after it occurred. The animal's remains, which were apparently disposed of before NPS researchers were contacted, have not been located. But P-39's damaged GPS collar was found near the freeway median, according to the Park Service.

The area's lion population is largely penned in by freeways and urban development, leading to at least one report estimating the species could die off within 50 years.

Kuykendall said P-50, P-51 and P-52 had been photographed when they were fitted with ear tags at 4 weeks old.

The tags are not tracking devices, but are used for identifying the creatures in photographs and videos, sightings and in the event of death, she said.

When P-39 was killed, the kittens were given poor odds of surviving on their own, and while it remains unclear if they have acquired the essential hunting and other skills to reach adulthood, "at seven to eight months, they are considerably less helpless," Kuykendall said.

"Although this is a very sad turn of events, I hope that our research can shed light into the lives of these animals and will inspire future conservation efforts to help wildlife move freely through more safely," she said.