“We are saddened to share the news that mountain lion P-81 was likely killed by a vehicle strike,” the National Park Service (NPS) confirmed over the weekend.
On Sunday, January 22, California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) officials collected P-81’s body on the Pacific Coast Highway near Las Posas Road. Both busy roadways cut through the the western Santa Monica Mountains, which are crucial habitat for California cougars. P-81, too, was critical to both CDFW and NPS’ understanding of the species in this area. But his life was cut short by a vehicle strike that left him dead in the middle of the highway. P-81 was around 4-years-old when he died.
National Park Service biologists initially captured the unique lion during March of 2020 in the western Santa Monica Mountains. “He was significant in our mountain lion study due to his physical abnormalities – a kinked tail in which the end is shaped like the letter ‘L’ and only one descended testicle,” NPS explains by media release. Beyond his uniqueness were the underlying causes, which made P-81 the critically-important mountain lion he was.
“These abnormalities marked the first physical evidence of potential inbreeding depression due to a lack of genetic diversity since we began studying mountain lions in the park in 2002,” NPS continues. In turn, P-81 was directly responsible for “increasing the urgency of understanding, maintaining, and ideally increasing connectivity for wildlife in the region.”
Death of Mountain Lion P-81 Furthers Importance of Wildlife Crossings
As NPS cites of their Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, vehicle strikes are the leading cause of death for mountain lions in P-81’s California ecosystem. In the last year alone, nine mountain lions have died after being hit by vehicles. Six of those lions wore radio-collars. Since 2002, P-81 is the 34th cougar to die from road mortality in this study area, and the 13th radio-collared animal.
P-81’s death comes only a month after P-22, a fellow California mountain lion and famous ambassador for their species.
The above highlights the importance of wildlife crossings for the urban areas of California. Highways and parking lots completely cut off wild habitats from one another. The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the 101 Freeway has proven life-and-ecosystem-changing. Thankfully, another is currently under construction in Agoura Hills. This will be a “major and critical step in connecting wildlife populations in the Santa Monica Mountains, including mountain lions, with other populations to the north,” NPS cites.
NPS has been studying mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains for the last two decades. This has determined how they survive in a fragmented and urbanized environment. CDFW is also responsible for overseeing the management and conservation of cougars in the state.
To learn more about the challenges these big cats face, see NPS’ Lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. For more on P-22’s circumstances, see our coverage of his life and death here.