Freeway Accident Kills Mountain Lion in Chatsworth, Orphans Kittens

P39 eating deer
P-39 eating in 2015 | Photo: Santa Monica Mountains NRA

Another member of Southern California’s beleaguered mountain lion population has been struck and killed by a car near Chatsworth, leaving behind a trio of six-month-old kittens who are unlikely to survive without their mother.

The female puma P-39, who has been tracked via GPS collar by the National Park Service since April 2015, was struck and killed December 3 near the Rocky Peak exit on the 118 Freeway. NPS biologists confirmed the lion was P-39 when they found the lion’s tracking collar in the highway median early this week. The NPS released an announcement of P-39's death on Thursday.

According to the Park Service's tracking data, P-39 had crossed the freeway successfully a few days before the accident. The whereabouts of her three kittens are unknown, but biologists don't expect them to do well without their mother.

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P-39 was killed at a point along the 118 where two large areas of undeveloped land adjoin on opposite sides of the freeway, in the band of open space between Simi Valley and Chatsworth. An equestrian tunnel a mile from where P-39 died has been used by pumas to travel between those two sections of tempting habitat, but the big cats have also crossed the highway itself several times. The National Park Service says better fencing is needed to funnel mountain lions toward that tunnel.

Here's some earlier footage of P-39 in a cave somewhere north of the 118, released by the NPS:

P-39 at cave

P-39 is the 13th mountain lion to have been killed by a vehicle since the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area began tracking local cats in 2002. Southern California freeways are a particular threat to the region’s pumas, and not just through roadkill; even if the big cats sensibly avoid trying to cross the freeways, the network of asphalt that covers Southern California has fractured a formerly extensive network of suitable habitat for mountain lions. With migration restricted, pumas in places like the Santa Monica Mountains suffer from a lack of new cats — and thus new cat genes — coming into their populations. Inbreeding and gradual decline are the usual result.

A campaign to build a wildlife crossing above the 101 at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills may well provide some help for mountain lions in the Santa Monicas. P-39’s death a dozen miles northeast, however serves as a reminder that the Ventura Freeway isn’t the only broken link in the SoCal puma habitat chain between the Santa Monicas and the Tehachapis.  

“Navigating our complex road network is a major challenge for mountain lions in this region,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the kittens have developed the hunting skills to survive without their mom.”

Puma kittens p50 p51 and-or p52
Two of P-39's three most recent kittens, in summer 2016 | Photo: Santa Monica Mountains NRA

Banner: P-39 in 2015. Photo: Santa Monica Mountains NRA 

For ongoing environmental coverage in March 2017 and afterward, please visit our show Earth Focus, or browse Redefine for historic material.
KCET's award-winning environment news project Redefine ran from July 2012 through February 2017.

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