Mountain Lions of LA: The True Hollywood Story

One of my family members called me up this weekend to say that he'd just seen this expose on 60 minutes about the mountain lions living outside of L.A. He was excited to get a little glimpse of my old haunts. You see, before I got a deskjob mapping important wildlife habitats, I used to actually track them in the field.
I spent years hiking all over Grand Canyon National Park to trap and collar these elusive felines and I also volunteered off and on in the Santa Monica Mountains when the well-known study there was just getting off the ground. There were only 2 lions collared then, the last two lions known to live in those mountains at the time. These OG mountain lions were known to researchers as P1 and P2.

He mentioned the shocking news about one of the most famous of the collared lions, P22, hiding out in a crawlspace underneath someone's home in Los Feliz last April... adding, It seems like there must be a lot of them. Wait a second, a lot of mountain lions??? Is that what the news report was saying? I had to see this sensationalist bit of film. And it turns out, they didn't say that. But they didn't NOT say that. There was a little bit of a dramatic flair in the report, making it sound like, Oh! Mountain lions could be very close to our homes! Isn't that SCARY? and then following it with relatively few facts about the multitude of scary threats are actually facing those mountain lions.
I mean, I could see how one might think that when lions are using houses for shelter, there must be a lot of lions. But in reality, there are relatively few lions that make up what I would consider to be a critically endangered local population, living in a place with a lot of houses. Like really a lot. I think the technical term is an "F-ton." The greater LA area has enough homes to house roughly 19 million people. There are a LOT of houses, a LOT of people, a LOT of cars, and a LOT of various other threats to wild animals, but not a lot of lions.

I say that the local population is endangered not because its officially classified "endangered," but because this small population could be wiped out in very little time at all, depending on how things play out. For example, P22, the celebrity lion known for roaming Griffith Park, doesn't have a snowball's chance in hell of ever reproducing, unless either he, or a hot young female lion, successfully cross a highway bisecting lion habitat that has some seriously world class heavy traffic- over 100,000 vehicles a day fly right past his hood.

Even if he overcame those death-defying odds, and somehow got back across 16 lanes alive, he'd be immediately in life-threatening danger in the form of any other male lions who already live in the habitat on the other side. These cats will, and do, fight to the death over resources like territory, food, and females.

And that's not all. P22 and all of the remaining lions (and other animals) in the LA vicinity face a host of other threats that come with the territory. He could have died of exposure to poisons from Rodenticide the if the Park Service hadn't interfered. Lethal levels of the poison Rodenticide are working its way up the foodchain through Southern California's wildlife. Rodent's aren't the only victims of this toxic crap that people are spreading like wildfire- foxes, coyotes, bobcats, mountain lions, and really any living being that eats local, so to speak, can bleed to death internally from exposure.

And don't even get me started on the incest and all of the potential health complications that can cause in the long term...

The LA Cougars' saga is a tale of survival against the odds. These cats are barely making it out of there alive, and in fact, many of them aren't. They'll be trapped in an isolated island of habitat where they become victims of vehicles, disease, incest, and inter-species strife unless CalTrans decides to build an overpass providing them with a safe route in and out of their hemmed in habitat. Even then, this secluded population can serve as an example of what could happen to wildlife all around the world- if we don't think ahead about preserving not only habitat, but also connections between wildlands before continuing to blindly build out our cities and communities, destroying and fragmenting wild habitats in the process. I'm surprised that 60 minutes failed to make that point...that seems like a lost opportunity.

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