Mountain Lion P-61 Was Killed While Trying To Cross The 405

We have some sad news. Just short of his discovery two years ago in the Santa Monica Mountains, the mountain lion known as P-61 is dead.

The big cat was struck and killed early Saturday while trying to cross the 405 freeway near the Sepulveda Pass — where the almost always busy road stretches across 10 lanes.

In a post on the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area Facebook page, officials said "his final GPS point indicates that he was between Bel Air Crest Road and the Sepulveda Boulevard underpass."

After he was hit, the California Highway Patrol was the first agency on the scene and officers alerted L.A. city animal control who, in turn, informed the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

P-61, who was four years old, successfully crossed the freeway in July. Parks officials said that researchers don't know why he tried again, but said it's possible an encounter with another adult male lion could have been a factor.

"Over the last few years, we and others have gotten remote camera photos of an uncollared male mountain lion that apparently lives in that area," the post said. "A negative encounter between the two could have caused P-61 to move back west."

A TOUGH ENVIRONMENT

When P-61 crossed the 405 in July, researchers said they hoped they'd be able to learn more about how mountain lions move in what they called a "highly fragmented area."

Seth Riley, the wildlife branch chief for the National Park Service at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, described the area where P-61 had been making his home for the last seven weeks as an "intensely urban area." He said at first the big cat roamed from Beverly Hills to the Hollywood Hills and as far east as Benedict Canyon.

But recently, Riley said P-61 had returned closer to the 405.

"We do know — we've gotten photos and other folks have gotten photos — of an uncollared adult male mountain lion over the last few years in that same area," he said, adding that because that mountain lion has not been collared researchers do not know his exact movements.

"It's possible that they ran into each other and males do not tolerate each other," Riley said. "Generally, the males have larger home ranges and they're trying to overlap with as many females as they can. And so they will fight and even kill each other."

ISOLATION IS THREATENING SURVIVAL

Riley said the most worrisome thing about the area's freeways isn't big cats being hit by cars, it's the isolation they create.

"I would say that the bigger impact of these freeways is typically as barriers more than a sources of mortality," he said. "And often animals don't even try to cross freeways that are this big and busy and so that ends up causing significant isolation. We've seen the course of our study of the animals in the Santa Monica Mountains is very few of them get out or in."

He said that has increased fighting — sometimes fatal — between male mountain lions seeking their own territory. And it has led to inbreeding between close relatives, including fathers and daughters mating.

Add to that last year's Woolsey Fire that destroyed large areas of their already shrunken habitat.

"They really are staying out even nine months later of the area within the burn parameter," he said. "And we don't know exactly why that is, but probably because a there's not as much deer or the deer that are in there are harder for them to hunt because there's no cover."
Whatever the reason, Riley said that's pushed a lot of mountain lions to the east side of the Santa Monica is where P-61 was.

The struggles facing mountain lions are highlighted by an annual three-and-a-half day, 50-mile hike that follows known paths for perhaps the most famous of the local mountain lions: P-22.

That hike follows P-22's famous journey from the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park.

"That we make it without getting hit by cars is miraculous," hiker Beth Pratt, who is the Executive Director of the California Regional Center for the Wildlife Federation, told LAist last October. "When you start looking at our human spaces through an animal's eyes, what they go through just to eat and survive, it underscores the importance of a wildlife crossing even more."

A long-proposed wildlife crossing over the 101 freeway entered a final design phase last month. The $87 million bridge will be mostly funded with private donations.

READ MORE:

New LA Mountain Lion Alert! Say Hi To P-75

A Field Guide To SoCal's Iconic Wildlife (And Where To Find Them)

Mountain Lion P-55, Famous For Crossing The 101 Freeway Twice, Has Died

Mountain Lion P-64, Famous For Frequent Freeway Crossings, Found Dead In Woolsey Fire Burn Zone

Julia Paskin and Megan Garvey contributed to this story.

UPDATES:

3 p.m.: This article was updated with quotes from Seth Riley.

This article was originally published at 1:30 p.m.