The 'sad but not surprising death' of a wandering puma known as P-32

The mountain lion, known as P-32, was a wanderer.

By the time he was killed — struck Monday morning by a vehicle as he crossed Interstate 5 near Castaic — he had roamed nearly 150 miles through Newbury Park and the Simi Valley, Chatsworth and Santa Clarita, before striking out into the wilderness of the Los Padres National Forest.

Such journeys are not unusual among mountain lions, but what is striking about P-32 — and indeed, his species — is his ability to hide in plain sight, slinking through suburbs and parks and survive five freeway crossings.

Their presence gives proof to the lie that Southern California is just a concrete jungle. Like the whales migrating just off the coast, they are both a throwback to another, less congested time and a reminder of what might be possible as the region tries to balance its rural and urban identities.

Yet getting there is tricky, a romantic notion that quickly runs afoul of reality. Whales get struck by container ships, and pumas by cars.

“The fact that you still have mountain lions in Los Angeles is pretty amazing,” wildlife ecologist Seth Riley recently said. “Los Angeles is probably the only mega-city in the world with a major carnivore. That speaks to the amazing conservation of wildlife and habitat in Los Angeles, but it’s something we may not have much longer.”

The park service called P-32’s death “sad but not surprising,” given the challenges faced by mountain lions that need up to 200 square miles to call their own.

The news is nonetheless distressing.

These animals are reminders of a side of life in the city that is becoming more rare and all the more precious.

When a mountain lion, P-22, was found sleeping in a crawl space beneath a home in Los Feliz last April, he made national news.

P-32 was a celebrity in his own right not just for his ability to get across four freeways. In mid-February, he and a sister were captured in a series of photographs interacting with each other and feeding on a deer carcass.

Since then, P-32 had been considered “a textbook case of successful dispersal,” said Kate Kuykendall, a spokeswoman for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

He was first tagged and collared in the Santa Monica Mountains near Point Mugu State Park. During his wanderings, he had gotten as far north as Pyramid Lake.

He was the only known male to venture out of the Santa Monica Mountains and wander north into other habitat areas, Kuykendall said.

An estimated 5,000 mountain lions live in California, and the leading cause of their death in Southern California is motor vehicle collisions. P-32 is the 12th mountain lion killed on a roadway since researchers began studying the mountain lion population in 2002 to determine how they survive in the city.

Riley, who was photographed holding P-32 as a four-week-old kitten in late 2013, has long advocated for a wildlife crossing over the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon. The roadway is not just a physical barrier but also blocks the gene flow among a dwindling species already compromised by genetic defects, he told NPR last fall.

The crossing will be expensive, he said, and it will take some time. “But I think it would be an amazing statement about wildlife and conservation in the second-largest metropolitan area in the country. Everyone that would drive that freeway would see, ‘Wow, they put something over this freeway specifically for wildlife.’ ”

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

3:43 p.m.: This story has been updated with details about the driver who hit P-32.

This story was orginally published at 12:49 p.m.

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