Two mountain lion kittens were recently discovered by National Park Service biologists in the Santa Monica Mountians, bringing the total of studied mountains lions in the area to 24.
“The fact that successful reproduction is occurring in the mountains indicates that we have high-quality habitat for mountains lions here,” said Dr. Seth Riley, a wildlife expert with the National Park Service.
Riley said the habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains isn't big enough to support a larger population of mountain lions.
“Unfortunately, the amount of habitat is not sufficient to support a viable population long-term, and when new animals like these are born, especially young males, they run into freeways and development when they try to disperse," he said.
The kittens’ mother is Puma 19, who was captured a few months ago and appeared to be pregnant.
While the mother was away, researchers outfitted the female and male kittens with tracking devices in their den east of Circle X Ranch in Malibu, according to Kate Kuykendall of the parks service.
The kittens were likely born in mid-June.
They are the second documented case of first-order inbreeding in which a father lion mates with his female offspring, according to the parks service.
DNA testing from the Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA indicated that the father of the kittens is P-12, who is also the father of P-19.
Biologist believe P-12—the only lion they have documented crossing the 101 Freeway—also fathered a 2-year-old male that in May.
That lion was likely trying to establish his own home range. That it trekked all the way to Second Street in Santa Monica, when young adult male lions look for new territory to escape threats from larger male lions or to find a mate.
Seth Riley, an urban wildlife expert with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, has noted that such movements can be critical for animal populations that are penned-in by geography and development—such as the mountain lions hemmed in by the 101 and 405 freeways.
The loss and fragmentation of their habitat because of development is the biggest threat to mountain lions in the region, Riley said.
In a press release, the parks service warned of kitten's chances of survival:
Although the habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains is robust and suitable for hunting and reproduction, the kittens will face many challenges to survive. The limited amount of connectivity between remaining natural areas and the lack of effective wildlife crossings can lead to deadly conflicts over territory and road mortalities.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the largest urban national park in the country, encompassing more than 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties.
Biologists from recreation area are now tracking seven mountain lions as part of a decade-long study to better understand how the animals survive in urbanized landscapes.
The recently discovered kittens are the third litter to be documented during the study.