2017-08-10 / Front Page

Puma spotted poolside makes rare crossing

Big cat survives trek over 101, 118
By Dawn Megli-Thuna


P-55 P-55 P-55, the mountain lion that made a big splash at a Newbury Park hot tub two weeks ago, successfully crossed three freeways and is now roaming the Santa Susana Mountains outside Simi Valley, the National Park Service said this week.

Sin c e making an appearance on a backyard wildlife camera on July 29, the 2-year-old male cougar made his way across the 101, 23 and 118 freeways, according to his tracking collar—a rare feat for a local puma. He crossed the 101 Freeway along the Conejo Grade on July 30 sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.

He is one of only four mountain lions known to survive crossing the 101 since scientists began monitoring it in 2002, the park service said.

He is the third cougar to be documented crossing in this particular area as he moved north away from the Santa Monica Mountains. His siblings P-32 and P-33 crossed at different times in 2015.

Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said in a press release that data from tracking collars shows mountain lions typically turn around when they reach the edge of a freeway.


ONE GUTSY LION—A screenshot taken from a National Park Service remote camera video shows P-55 on April 10 preparing to rub his face on a rock. This behavior, cheek rubbing, is thought to be used to mark territory. 
Courtesy of National Park Service ONE GUTSY LION—A screenshot taken from a National Park Service remote camera video shows P-55 on April 10 preparing to rub his face on a rock. This behavior, cheek rubbing, is thought to be used to mark territory. Courtesy of National Park Service “So it’s really interesting to see another lion get across,” he said. “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.” 

Researchers have recorded 17 road-kill deaths of mountain lions in the region since 2002. Between December 2016 and February 2017, three cougars were killed crossing the 118 Freeway in Simi Valley.

Renee Merrill, whose backyard was one of at least two in Newbury Park that P-55 traveled through last month, said she was relieved at news of the puma’s safe passage.

“I think it’s amazing that he’s one of only a few who made it across,” she said. “He’s alone and trying to make his own way because the other adult males are not necessarily his best friends.”

But, she said, she doesn’t miss the feline predator.

“I just hope he doesn’t try to make it back across,” Merrill said.

Future still in doubt

P-55 was caught by NPS wildlife experts in April in the western Santa Monica Mountains along with another young male, P-56. Park officials suspect the cats might be siblings.

The two mountain lions were fitted with tracking collars and released.

With the help of the tracking system, which keeps tabs on around 20 or so cougars in the area, officials have followed P- 55’s movement across the Santa Monica Mountains and into the Santa Susana range.

Zach Behrens, a communications fellow with the SMMNRA, said the 101 is a major barrier to the health of the local mountain lion population. He said a proposed wildlife crossing over the freeway in Agoura Hills would enable safe passage for many species to and from the Santa Monica Mountains. This is particularly true for mountain lions and would increase the population’s genetic diversity.

“He’s a dispersing young male trying to find its own territory,” Behrens said of P-55.

Open space fragmented by freeways makes it hard for young male mountain lions to establish their own territory. Adult males have ranges of up to 200 miles, and the inability to cross a major freeway can leave young males trapped in another male’s territory, increasing the chances for conflict and inbreeding.

It is rare for male mountain lions to survive past the age of 2 in the Santa Monica Mountains, Behrens said.

Along with local partners, Caltrans has proposed a wildlife crossing for Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills in a location bordered on both sides by open space that is protected in perpetuity by government land management agencies. The estimated $50-million land bridge would be paid for with private monies.

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