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Meet Adonis, The New Mountain Lion In Town. He's Kind Of A Big Deal

Adonis, the first male mountain lion to be spotted in the Verdugo mountains since P-41's death last October. (Photo courtesy of Roy Dunn)
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Sorry dog lovers, Los Angeles is a cat town. We're one of only two megacities in the world that can say they have a big cat living within city limits. Mumbai has its leopards, we have our mountain lions. And we recently added a new feline resident.

A new cougar has been photographed in the Verdugo Mountains above Glendale and Burbank. It's the first time a male has been spotted in that area since the death of P-41, nine months ago. People have named the new puma Adonis, a nod to Aphrodite's lover in Greek mythology who was known for his remarkable youth and beauty. So the moniker is perfect. Adonis is young and seemingly flawless.

"It's been kind of like a new season of 'Game of Thrones.' It's a really engaging drama," says Miguel Ordeñana, a wildlife biologist at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. "We don't know much about him other than he looks very healthy." And that he's a handsome devil.

Animal experts speculate that Adonis came from the San Gabriel Mountains, so hopes are high that he'll spread those genes.

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A brief history of P-41 and Nikita

In spring 2010, Johanna Turner, a sound effects editor at Universal Studios, captured images and motion-activated video of an adult male mountain lion in the Verdugo Mountains.

He became one of the first large carnivores in the Verdugos to be studied. Not long after, a female mountain lion came along. Researchers named her Nikita, as in la femme.

Nikita has resided in the Verdugo mountains for about eight years. (Photo courtesy of Johanna Turner)

Nikita and P-41 mated and ended up birthing two litters of kittens, but things didn't go well. One of the kittens was rescued after it was found trapped under a car in the middle of Burbank. It was taken to a sanctuary.

The other two were believed to be setting out to find new territory, but one was killed trying to cross the 210 Freeway in La Tuna Canyon and the other one was killed on the 2 Freeway while trying to reach the San Rafael Hills.

Then in October 2017, the National Park Service announced that they had found P-41 dead due to rodenticide poisoning. Turner took his death hard.

"After P-41 died, I really felt like that was the end for the Verdugos, because there's development increasing all around," she says. "So I thought, we got to follow P-41. He got to live his life pretty well and that would be the end of me being able to follow a story like this and get to know an animal."

Adonis caught drinking water somewhere in the Verdugos. (Photo courtesy of Johanna Turner)

Biologists urged Turner not to jump to conclusions. Nikita was still in the area, after all. Perhaps another cougar would come along and strike her fancy. She didn't believe them -- but then Adonis showed up.

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"It just changed my whole outlook," Turner says. "Now I get to know a new animal and I get to figure out... what he's like."

Adonis and Nikita have already been recorded together, so perhaps we'll soon hear the pitter patter of little kitten paws.

"Eventually, Adonis and Nikita will most likely have a litter of kittens," Turner says, "and those kittens will need a way to get out of the Verdugos because it's too small there to support more than two [mountain lions]."

At just 19-square miles, the Verdugo range is bound by the 210 and 2 freeways, which makes leaving the area extremely dangerous.

Ordeñana explained that when a male or a female reaches adult age, they leave their natal range and find territory of their own. Grown males often end up chasing off young pumas when they reach the one- to two-year mark, even if they're their own offspring. Usually this isn't a problem if a suitable habitat isn't far off. But because of all our freeways and homes, humans have made this process nearly impossible.

Adonis: the wildlife ambassador

That's where all those stunning photos of these mountain lions come into play. Like P-41 before him, wildlife advocates hope Adonis has the power to make Angelenos care about the animals in the Verdugo Mountains.

We've seen big cats draw attention to conservation issues before, such as the beloved P-22, who's Griffith Park's semi-official mascot.

P22 walks by one of Miguel Ordeñana's wildlife cameras in the daylight. (Photo courtesy of Miguel Ordeñana)

"Because Adonis is so good-looking and photogenic and Nikita is so charismatic and really the great work of the cougar magic team, which is Johanna and Denis and others, (they) are really able to bring this information to the public and connect them to a really engaging and tangible story," Ordeñana says.

Turner works with the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy, a group whose goal is to find and conserve these slivers of land that wildlife use to safely cross into the Verdugos.

"That's my goal in the camera trapping," Turner says. "It went from being just a hobby for fun into working with an organization like AFC and help them, which would, in turn, help the animals."

Editor's note: A version of this story also on the radio. Listen to it here on KPCC's Take Two.

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