The National Park Service (NPS) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) will follow the mountain lion cubs throughout their lives as they learn to navigate their highly-fragmented, urbanized California environment.
Welcome to the world, little ones. For thousands of years, their species dominated this landscape. But today, highways and vehicles rule the Santa Monica Mountains. If you’re familiar with the late P-22, our most famous mountain lion, then you know the lengths to which California officials are going to help their lions rebound amid seemingly-insurmountable odds.
And today, we have much-welcomed news of three new female cubs discovered in the mountains’ Simi Hills. According to NPS biologists, mountain lion P-77 recently gave birth to these three little ones in a small area of habitat between the larger Santa Monica and Santa Susan Mountain ranges.
Allow us to introduce you to P-113, P-114, and P-115 via NPS footage as the sisters rest nestled away in the brush of their den:
Their mother, P-77, is estimated to be around 5-6 years old. “She was first captured in the Simi Hills in November 2019, and biologists say she has established her adult home range in this smaller habitat patch between the 101 and 118 freeways,” NPS cites in their media release Thursday.
On May 18, biologists located the kittens in a dense patch of poison oak nestled among large boulders. All three kittens look to be healthy and well taken care of; a wonderful sight. The sisters should be around 24 days old based on when P-77 first arrived at the site, NPS says.
As for their father, NPS biologists are not currently following any adult males in the area between the 101 and 118 freeways. Officials suspect P-77’s mate came through the Santa Susana Mountains before traveling back.
‘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’
“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,” offers Jeff Sikich, lead field biologist of the NPS mountain lion study.
Regardless, “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,” Sikich adds.
Mom P-77 has previously crossed both the 101 and 118, a perilous act for her species. Both highways have claimed dozens of mountain lions in recent years, but she’s managed to make both the Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountains a home. Now, her legacy will continue through three daughters.
P-77’s litter is the first in Simi Hills since 2020, and only the third seen since California studies began. Previous mothers of the area, P-67 and P-62, are deceased.
In total, this new litter is the 25th litter of kittens NPS biologists have marked at this specific den site. As NPS notes, “Each visit to a den by a biologist occurs while the mother is away hunting for food, feeding, or resting. A biologist will track her movements via telemetry while others on the team approach the den area.”
Then, once the den is found, researchers conduct a general health assessment of the kittens, or cubs. This takes place short distance away before officials place the little ones back in their den, typically within an hour’s time.
Like P-22, these cubs will further California’s conservation efforts
To help further cougar conservation efforts, each mountain lion cub is sexed, weighed, sampled, then ear-tagged. This way, remote cameras can aid in research in general, and if/when radio collars fail later in life.
In his time, their famous cousin, P-22, called Griffith Park of Los Angeles home on the eastern side of the Santa Monica Mountains. NPS has been studying mountain lions in and around this area since 2002, while CDFW is responsible for overseeing the management and conservation of the species in the state.
At large, their home is the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). It is the largest urban national park in the country. Over 150,000 acres of mountains and coastline in Ventura and Los Angeles counties are prime mountain lion habitat, so this NPS-managed site is crucial to their survival in California.
Modern conservation efforts saw organizations raise over sixty-five million dollars to build an overpass for wildlife in his area. Another is on the way. As a result, the habitat that once allowed P-22 to thrive “has doubled in size,” Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom host Peter Gros told me in a recent interview.
California’s mountain lion legacy
“Wildlife can now transition and expand their habitat as they need to. This allows them to find mates and diversify the gene pool,” Gros added, an issue highlighted by the death of another beloved local lion, P-81.
“Mountain lions, by nature, are very shy. They tend to want to stay away from people. But because P-22 was photographed at night near the famous Hollywood sign by a motion camera, he became famous. People around the Los Angeles area had, and have, the correct reaction to his species. Rather than being fearful or demanding his relocation, their attitude has been ‘Let’s learn about it, help create an overpass so we can expand his habitat over the busy Highway 101, and help him navigate a place where over 300,000 cars a day pass through,'” Gros lauded.
Here’s to a long and healthy life for sisters P-113, P-114, and P-115, and to the survival of their California kin.
ABOUT SMMNRA: Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area comprises a seamless network of local, state and federal parks interwoven with private lands and communities. And as one of only five Mediterranean ecosystems in the world, SMMNRA preserves the rich biological diversity of more than 450 animal species and 26 distinct plant communities.