Big cities are not often linked with being wildlife habitats and so the topic of endangered species living in the area is not one that is usually discussed. However, in L.A the subject is becoming more prominent as there are a group of mountain lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains that are facing extinction.
Whilst the population of the animal is quite healthy across the state of California, the group living in the Santa Monica Mountains near L.A are essentially trapped. These creatures need around 100 square miles each as territories but the network of freeways (motorways), suburbs and the Pacific Ocean are forcing this group of 10 to stay in the 275 square mile mountain range. The cats need a way to gain access to the rest of the state’s large amounts of wild mountain lions otherwise they will become extinct through inbreeding.
In 2002, scientists tagged the 21 lions that were living in this habitat in an attempt to understand the cats’ feeding patterns, movement and breeding patterns. Since then many of have those lions have died. The animals are extremely territorial and some of the weaker lions have been killed by the more dominant lions. In one circumstance, a male lion killed three of its own offspring because they could not find their own territories; whilst other cats have died from eating small animals that have been contaminated with rat poison.
The mountain lions are understandably restless and need to search for a new home. In one incident last week, a young lion walked out on to the freeway and was killed when hit by oncoming traffic. The biologists that have been studying this population of animals say that the youngster was trying to escape the isolated conditions in which it had been living and was searching for a new home.
The California Department of Transportation has been working closely with the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy in trying to find and establish safe routes for the cats to cross the freeways and gain access to the vast open spaces of the Santa Susana Mountains and Los Padres National Forest. They have applied for a multi-million dollar grant in which to build a 13 foot by 13 foot tunnel, along with fencing, under the 101 freeway.
Experts are worried that even if the project is funded, it will take a few years to build and by that time it may be too late. Some have suggested introducing other male cats from outside the habitat to encourage fresh genes amongst the group when breeding. However, other experts say that this would be a disaster as the existing dominant male of the group would fight with any newcomer and so it may, in fact, increase the rate of extinction rather than reduce it.
Any case whereby a species or group of animals faces extinction is disheartening to animal lovers the world over. Animal Friends can sympathise with the conservationists who are trying their upmost best to help these poor mountain lions. We will keep a close eye on any updates with the situation and of course let you should any progress be made.