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100+ Calif. Mountain Lions a Year Killed by Motor Vehicles

P-39 and one of her cubs, captured in spring 2015 by a National Park Service trail camera. (National Park Service)
P-39 and one of her cubs, captured in spring 2015 by a National Park Service trail camera. (National Park Service)
December 27, 2016

LOS ANGELES – The biggest threat to mountain lions in California is traffic. More than 100 of the big cats died this year across the state in collisions with fast-moving cars.

The Santa Monica Mountains are the major problem area, with at least two mountain lions killed there in recent weeks - including one known as "P-39," who leaves three cubs behind. But Andrew Hughan, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Regions 5 and 6, says that isn't uncommon; vehicle collisions are an unfortunate side effect of their habitat erosion.

"Mountain lions are probably killed a couple times a week," said Hughan. "They're killed all the time across the state."

And yet, state officials say the mountain lion population remains stable, mostly because the species lacks other, natural predators.

Wildlife advocates have worked hard to raise awareness of the challenges for big cats, to the point that any death sparks a public conversation.

Hughan says P-39's orphaned cubs are now fending for themselves. Mountain lions usually stick close to their mothers for the first two years of life.

Statewide estimates of the mountain lion population range from 4,000 to 6,000. Hughan points out that California is the only state that protects them by legislation. So, the big cats may not be safe from traffic on busy roadways - but they are safe from hunters.

"There are a few other states that outlaw it, just because they don't want them hunted," he explained. "But California's the only one that's protected. There's no hunting, so the population's allowed to thrive. The only thing, really, that keeps the population in check is getting hit by cars."

He encourages drivers to report any car accidents involving a mountain lion, because many are tagged and studied. These accidents are not considered a crime.

His department also handled the high-profile case this month of "P-45," a mountain lion that killed about a dozen alpacas and a couple of goats. The owner requested a permit to kill the lion, and according to Hughan, that caused a public uproar.

"The alpaca owner decided to rescind the permit and not do anything about it, so P-45 continues to roam around the Santa Monica Mountains," he said. "But you know, we're not looking for it or hunting it, or anything like that."

He added the department supports the plan for a wildlife corridor over the busy U.S. Route 101 freeway to help ease tensions for the Santa Monica lion population, but says the politics of funding it are complicated.

Logan Pollard, Public News Service - CA