For only the second time in 16 years, a mountain lion has been recorded crossing the 101 Freeway south into the Santa Monica Mountains, National Park Service officials said Tuesday.
Moving under the freeway through a pitch black culvert the length of two football fields, the mountain lion identified as P-64 was captured on camera March 1 crossing from Simi Valley and the Santa Susana Mountains to the Santa Monica Mountains, the park service said.
For wildlife, the 101Freeway is fraught with danger. The National Park Service has studied and advocated for years that a wildlife crossing be built over the freeway at Agoura Road in the Liberty Canyon area.
Since studies began in 2002, 18 mountain lions have been killed on the region's roads and freeways while attempting to cross them. P-64 is the fifth mountain lion to cross the 101 Freeway in that timeframe and only the second to cross it from north to south, officials said.
"It's really interesting that this mountain lion figured out how to use this extremely long and dark culvert under the freeway," said Seth Riley, wildlife ecologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, in a statement. "We have had many other collared mountain lions come close to the freeway in the Liberty Canyon area and not manage to get across."
Researchers have monitored the culvert for the last three years and have never seen a big animal like a bobcat, coyote, mountain lion, mule deer or even a raccoon use it to cross before P-64.
"Though we clearly cannot count on the Liberty Creek culvert in general for connectivity, it shows the importance of this location and the ability and drive of these animals to find ways to get across," Riley said.
P-64 is a male estimated to be 3 to 4 years old with a home range that includes Simi Valley, the Santa Susana Mountains and apparently the northern end of the Santa Monica Mountain range.
He was first captured on Boeing property on Feb. 28 and outfitted in a GPS collar. The next day researchers saw him cross the freeway.
Park officials say without a reliable wildlife crossing over the freeway, the small pocket of mountain lions there will lose genetic diversity to the point the population will eventually go extinct.