When the average non-resident pictures Los Angeles, they might think about Hollywood, Scientology, or In-N-Out Burger. They probably don't think about mountain lions. Surprisingly, Los Angeles mountain lions are very much a thing. These are the lions of the Santa Monica Mountains, a group of approximately 15 adult cats and kittens who roam the range. Some Los Angeles residents adore them, going so far as to enact a local holiday in their honor. Others think that they're a nuisance at best, and a menace at worse.
While the Los Angeles County cougars are subjects of fascination, they're also in danger. Trapped in the mountains by two freeways and the Pacific Ocean, it's difficult for the male lions to strike out and form their own families – and the tragic result is inbreeding. If no solution is found, it could be the end for these majestic creatures. Hopefully, it doesn't come to that. For now, let's learn about how these strange urban lions are living.
One Mountain Lion Lives Near The Hollywood Sign
The mountain lion known as P-22 apparently left his family as an adolescent and crossed two highways, finally landing in Griffith Park. This enormous stretch of land is five times the size of New York City's Central Park, and contains the Griffith Observatory, the LA Zoo, and the Hollywood sign.
Park Rangers Track The Mountain Lions Using Collars
Keeping tabs on the mountain lions would be close to impossible without proper technology, but thankfully that technology is readily available. The National Park service captures the lions, fits them with GPS collars, and then releases them back into the wild. To further aid with tracking, each lion is given a numerical designation.
One particularly aggressive lion, for instasnce, is named P-45. The 45 means that he's the 45th subject to be collared. The P stands for Puma concolor, a species which includes puma, panther catamounts, cougar, and mountain lion.
The Lions' Lives Are Dangerous
Mountain lions might seem like unstoppable predators, but there are a number of dangers plaguing them in Los Angeles. First of all, with such scarce resources, the male lions are likely to attack or even kill each other. Often, it's adult males killing male kittens; most don't live past age two for this reason.
Another danger is from rodenticide. While the poison is meant to control the area's rat population, mountain lions who eat poisoned rats can become severely ill or die. Then there are LA's infamous freeways – they're a deadly threat to any cats who wander into traffic.
Inbreeding Puts The Whole Population At Risk
The Santa Monica Mountains cover about 240 square miles, which is enough space for a small family of mountain lions. Under normal circumstances, newly mature males will strike out to find their own breeding grounds, but because these lions live in the middle of LA, they're trapped in place by the 101, the 405, and the Pacific Ocean.
While male lions occasionally make it out of the Santa Monica Mountains, most are stuck at home. This results in inbreeding, which can cause serious health problems, including low sperm counts, heart disease, and weakened immune systems. Without the ability to find new mates and improve their genetic diversity, the lions risk extinction.