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Litter of kittens provides hope for Los Angeles mountain lions after dreadful year

After a devastating year for Los Angeles mountain lions, researchers have made a hopeful discovery in the southern California hills: an all-female litter of kittens.

Biologists found the three cubs last week in what the National Park Service described as a “dense patch of poison oak nestled among large boulders” in between the Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountain ranges. The kittens, just over three weeks old and known as P-113, P-114 and P-115, are healthy, the NPS said in a statement.

“It’s encouraging to see reproduction in our small population of mountain lions, especially after all the mortalities we have documented in the last year,” said Jeff Sikich, the lead field biologist of the NPS mountain lion study, which since 2002 has looked at how the animals survive in a fragmented and urbanized environment.

Fifteen mountain lions have died in the study area since march 2022, Sikich told the Los Angeles Times, the majority after being hit by vehicles. Among those killed last year was Los Angeles’ beloved P-22, once called the Brad Pitt of mountain lions, who for a decade famously roamed in urban city neighborhoods and underneath the Hollywood sign.

Two female mountain lion kittens seen near a rock in Simi Hills in May 2023. Photograph: AP

The trio of kittens were born to P-77, who biologists estimate is between five and six years old and lives in between the busy 101 and 118 freeways. The father likely came from the Santa Susana Mountains and has since returned, the NPS said.

“It will be interesting to learn how these kittens will use the landscape once they get older and disperse, particularly if they decide to stay in the Simi Hills or cross freeways to enter larger natural areas,” said Sikich.

National Park Service (NPS) biologists announced mountain lion P-77 recently gave birth to three female kittens.
National Park Service (NPS) biologists announced mountain lion P-77 recently gave birth to three female kittens. Photograph: AP

Researchers visited the den while the mother was away and conducted a short general health assessment of the kittens a short distance away before returning them. The biologists also tagged each kitten, which will help identify them in the future.

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This is the third litter researchers have documented in in the area. The mothers of the previous litters from 2018 and 2020 are both now deceased. The last two adult males who researchers regularly tracked in the Simi Hills have both died, one in the December 2018 Woolsey Fire and another after being poached in July 2019, the NPS said in its statement.

Highways pose a severe threat to mountain lions – 535 died on California highways between 2015 and 2022. Southern California hopes to alleviate this with an $87m wildlife crossing, under construction over a 10-lane stretch of the 101 freeway, that will connect two parts of the Santa Monica mountains, allowing creatures like the new litter of kittens to cross safely.

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