Newly released surveillance videos appear to show the mountain lion known as P-61 getting chased by another puma through a residential area near the Sepulveda Pass minutes before he was killed on the 405 Freeway earlier this month.
The black and white footage, released Wednesday by the National Park Service, revealed the mountain lion spent the final hour of his young life trying to evade another male.
His remains were found around 4 a.m. on Sept. 7 near the Sepulveda Boulevard underpass on the 405.
The 4-year-old died less than two months after he became the first GPS-collared mountain lion to successfully cross the 10-lane freeway in the Park Service’s 17-year study of big cats in and around the Santa Monica Mountains.
In the hours after the puma’s death, researchers theorized that P-61 may have tried to cross the freeway again to get away from an uncollared male who was also known to inhabit the eastern edge of the 405.
That belief appears to be borne out by a series of grainy but dramatic video clips that show portions of the nighttime chase.
The last hour of P-61’s life
The first clip, filmed about 3:09 a.m., shows a male mountain lion chasing P-61 through a residential street and into a tree. About two minutes later, the uncollared male climbs up the same tree, according to a news release from the Park Service.
In the second video, taken about 26 minutes later, a mountain lion can be seen jumping out of the tree and running away, the release read. The other male is closely behind.
Moments later, a big cat believed to be P-61 is seen in a third clip running across a road, heading south adjacent to the 405.
The final video, taken about 3:36 a.m., captures an uncollared male walking under the freeway toward Sepulveda Boulevard. The big cat suddenly turns around, then heads south alongside the 405, in the same direction as P-61.
Minutes after that, P-61 was struck by traffic on the southbound 405, having managed to cross over five lanes before being killed.
‘Lucky to be able to see how this unfolded’
The encounter likely stemmed from the uncollared adult male protecting his home range, which was the same area that P-61 was inhabiting prior to his death, according to Jeff Sikich, a biologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
The untagged male cat has been captured on remote cameras between the 405 and 101 freeways over the past four years.
“There’s no bad guy in this scenario,” Sikich said in the release. “This is what male mountain lions instinctively do and it did not end up in P-61’s favor. … The difference is that this is real life mountain lion behavior playing out in an urban and fragmented landscape that is complicated by busy roads and development.”
Though it ended in tragedy, the event was described as “significant” by experts. They noted it’s rare even to catch a glimpse of these mostly nocturnal animals.
“It’s incredibly lucky to be able to see how this unfolded,” said Seth Riley, the wildlife branch chief for Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area.
Geographic, territorial issues threaten species in L.A.
P-61’s death marked the 19th time that a mountain lion died from being hit by a vehicle, and the eight collared animal overall in the 17-year-period, according to researchers.
It’s one of the top two causes of death for large cats in the region, with the other being intraspecific strife.
The latter is believed to be more common in the Santa Monica Mountains because the urban sprawl and myriad freeways of L.A. present a significant obstacle to dispersal for the species, according to the release.
That increases the chances that male mountain lions will encounter one another, leading to intraspecific conflict.
“With P-61, we have a documented conflict between males, which we think increases with isolation, and then likely running from this fight, he dies from a clearly human-related cause, a speeding vehicle,” said Riley, who is also an adjunct professor at UCLA.
The problem could be worsened by the massive Woolsey Fire burn area within the Santa Monica Mountains, according to researchers.
GPS-collared mountain lions have largely avoided the territory since the blaze last November, further limiting their patchwork of habitat in the Los Angeles area, experts explained.
Mountain lions are already isolated enough in the region, a geographic problem that is further exacerbated by inbreeding. Experts are concerned without action, big city cats could be extinct within 15 years, the Associated Press reported.
In an effort to mitigate the problem, officials have planned to build a wildlife crossing bridge that would allow mountain lions to safely traverse the 101 Freeway.
The $87-million project is slated for completion in 2023.