A young mountain lion, dubbed P-78, who was a part of the National Park Service’s study of the big cats’ survival in and around the Santa Monica Mountains, was found dead likely due to injuries from being struck by a car, officials announced Wednesday.
The body of the male cat, who lived in the Santa Susana Mountains of Simi Hills, was found along the San Francisquito creek in Valencia by park biologists, according to a statement from the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
“We are sad to share the news that another mountain lion in our study, P-78, was likely killed by massive injuries sustained from being hit by a vehicle,” the park said.
The cat, who was known to cross the 5 Freeway, had a broken front left leg and appeared to have been hit by a car.
P-78 also tested positive for exposure to five anticoagulant rodenticide compounds and bromethalin — rat and rodent poison.
His body was submitted to the California Animal Health & Food Safety Laboratory System in San Bernardino for a necropsy and testing, the park said.
P-78 is the 23rd mountain lion, and the 7th radio-collared animal, to die from road mortality in the study area since 2002.
Biologists had received a “mortality signal” from P-78’s radio collar on Dec. 26 and they say he appeared to have been doing well. In November, they had recaptured P-78 in the eastern Santa Susana Mountains at Towsley Canyon to replace the battery in his GPS collar.
The big cat joined the National Park Service’s study in 2019, and was one of 11 mountain lions being monitored through a GPS collar. Eleven of the cats inhabit the Santa Monica Mountains, three in the Simi Hills and one — the beloved P-22 — in Griffith Park.
P-78 was was initially captured in the central Santa Monica Mountains as a subadult and then traveled west, crossing the 101 Freeway at the Conejo Grade. He spent some time in Wildwood, then crossed Highway 23, then Highway 118 in the Rocky Peak area. The cat had been living in the eastern Santa Susana Mountains before his death. He regularly crossed underneath the 5 Freeway along the Santa Clara River, biologists say. At one point, he even went way up into the Angeles National Forest before coming back to the Santa Susana Mountains.
By tracking mountain lions over a long period of time, researchers have learned that the cats are virtually “trapped on an island of habitat,” Ranger Ana Beatriz has said.
Surrounded by freeways and the Pacific Ocean, the mountain lions face many challenges in the long-term survival of the species in the Los Angeles landscape, officials say.
Roads are one major issue, with vehicle collisions among the leading causes of death. Another threat is the presence of rat poisons, which have caused several mountain lion deaths.
The fragmented territory has also resulted in inbreeding, and the local population has among the lowest genetic diversity ever documented, according to the park service.
L.A. is just one of only two megacities in the world with a population of big cats living in city limits, the other being Mumbai in India.
J.P. Rose, an attorney for the Urban Wildlands program at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the death of P-78 “tragic.”
“While we’re heartened that officials have temporarily protected these big cats under the state Endangered Species Act, policy makers must support bold investments in wildlife crossings. They must also stop greenlighting massive sprawl projects that block remaining wildlife corridors,” Rose said in a statement.