When P-61 was killed earlier this month crossing the 405 Freeway, the mountain lion was likely fleeing from another big cat protecting its territory, based on video surveillance.
Video released by the National Park Service shows what researchers think is P-61 being chased by an uncollared lion toward the freeway shortly before he was struck and killed by a car.
In the videos, the chased animal can be seen climbing a tree before another mountain lion ascends the same tree at 3:09 a.m. Sept 7. About 20 minutes later, both lions are seen coming down the tree, one after the other.
In a separate video sequence a minute later, one of the big cats is seen running quickly south, adjacent to the 405 Freeway. At the same time, an uncollared mountain lion walks briskly toward Sepulveda Boulevard under the 405. Seemingly scared by brightly lit construction nearby, the animal then turns abruptly and heads toward the other mountain lion.
P-61 was struck on the freeway minutes later.
The 4-year-old male had made it across at least five lanes of traffic, but was struck in the southbound lanes about 4 a.m., park service officials said.
The death is just part of nature, said Jeff Sikich, a biologist studying the mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains.
“This is what male mountain lions instinctively do, and it did not end up in P-61’s favor,” he said. “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.”
Seth Riley, the wildlife branch chief for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, called the video “incredibly lucky.” It has provided researchers a rare chance to observe natural mountain lion behavior in an urban landscape, NPS officials said.
“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,” Riley said.
Researchers think the mountain lion that chased P-61 is the same one that has been captured on remote cameras between the 405 and 101 freeways.
P-61 was first captured and outfitted with a collar in October 2017. He gained fame in July for being the first tagged mountain lion to successfully cross the 405 Freeway.
Other large cats have met their end trying to cross the 405. In 2011, a young collared mountain lion was hit by a car in the same area. Two years earlier, an uncollared lion met the same fate.