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Mountain Lion P-55 Crosses 101 Freeway, Now Roaming Santa Susana Mountains

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P-55. (Courtesy of the National Park Service)
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P-55, a male mountain lion that's estimated to be about two years old, has crossed the 101 Freeway, venturing away from the Santa Monica Mountains, announced researchers at the National Park Service. It's believed that the lion later crossed Highway 23 and the 118 Freeway as well, and now roams the Santa Susana Mountains.

The NPS describes the crossing of the 101 Freeway as a "rare case," noting that, since 2002, there have been only four documented cases of a mountain lion crossing the freeway. Of the four crossings, only one (made by P-12) entered the Santa Monica Mountains from the north, bringing in new genetic material that is much needed in the region.

P-55 made headlines days before his crossing. Security cameras spotted him roaming the backyard of a Newbury Park home just after midnight on July 29. The footage, uploaded by Thousand Oaks Acorn, shows the lion jumping over a spa after it nearly falls into it (this part is kind of hard to see, but it happens towards the end):

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The crossing highlights an issue that hangs over the mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. Fenced in by the sea and the freeways, the region has become an island in which inbreeding is rampant for the area's mountain lions. In August of 2016, researchers released a report that said that there's a 99.7% chance that the animals will go extinct if nothing is done to provide relief.

“The overwhelming pattern we’ve observed through GPS tracking is lions coming up to the edge of a freeway and turning around,” said Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, in regards to P-55's crossing. “So it’s really interesting to see another lion get across. As a whole, however, lions face significant challenges moving around the fragmented landscape in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, especially across larger roads and through intensely developed areas.”

In efforts to let the mountain lions roam into other regions, state agencies, wildlife agencies and elected officials have backed a Caltrans proposal that would establish a wildlife crossing that extends over the 101 Freeway in the Agoura Hills area. Planners are hoping for a 2021 unveiling of the project, reports the L.A. Times.