Another wild mountain lion, this time in the Santa Monica Mountains, has been found dead following a possible “vehicle strike,” California officials said in a statement Friday.
The lion, which wore a radio collar and was known to scientists as P-81, was found on the Pacific Coast Highway near Las Posas Road in the western Santa Monica Mountains, according to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area official Twitter account.
The cougar had been tracked by National Park Service scientists as part of a long-term study. He was noted for his physical abnormalities: a kinked tail and only one descended testicle, according to the park service.
Biologists said the traits were signs of low genetic diversity, or inbreeding, in the area, and the discovery “underscores the need for measures to better support this population,” wildlife biologist Jeff Sickich said in 2020.
The animal, estimated to be about four years old, was “likely killed” by a car on January 22, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Authorities will conduct a necropsy to confirm the manner of death, the tweet added.
The news of P-81’s death comes more than a month after P-22, another Los Angeles area mountain lion under study, was euthanized after suffering injuries in a vehicle strike, CNN previously reported. He became a local celebrity when a camera trap photographed him beneath the Hollywood sign, and more recently, was known for attacking a chihuahua being walked on a leash.
As people move into mountain lion habitats, human-wildlife conflicts have become increasingly common, according to the department.
However, mountain lion attacks on people are relatively uncommon: “Statistically speaking, a person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion,” the department said.
Pressure on California’s big cats
While not endangered, mountain lions are classified as “specially protected species,” according to the department.
Scientists consider them an important part of biological diversity. In California, they are the last remaining large carnivore, according to the Cougar Conservancy.
Their kills provide a reliable food source for scavengers, like critically-endangered California condors, according to the conservancy. Songbirds, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies and native plants would be affected if the predator were to go extinct, the conservancy said.
With habitat loss due to roads and development, cougars in Southern California are suffering from genetic isolation, the conservancy said.
Vehicle strikes are the leading cause of death for mountain lions in the southern California area, according to the park service.
“Since March 2022, nine mountain lions have died by vehicle strikes – six were radio-collared,” a tweet from the recreation area said. “P-81 is the 34th mountain lion, and the 13th radio-collared, to die from road mortality since 2002.”