A mountain lion killed last month by a motorist on the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills was a visitor from the north that would have brought new genetic material to the isolated cougar population in the Santa Monica Mountains, the National Park Service said Wednesday.
His death spotlights the importance of creating a wildlife corridor at Liberty Canyon that would enable mountain lions, bobcats and other animals to safely pass under one of the region’s busiest highways, said Seth Riley, a specialist in urban wildlife with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service.
The California Department of Transportation has twice sought federal funding for a $10-million tunnel crossing near the Liberty Canyon exit, where the young male lion was struck and killed. Riley said the park service or the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy might apply for the funding next year.
Pumas in the Santa Monica Mountains are hemmed in by freeways, the Pacific Ocean and the agricultural fields of Oxnard, and the resulting lack of genetic diversity is a threat to their long-term survival, the park service said in a news release.
Riley said it appeared the lion made it across eight lanes of traffic but then was stopped cold by a 10-foot-tall concrete retaining wall topped by several feet of chain-link fencing on the south side of the freeway.
“He … couldn’t get anywhere,” Riley said. “It’s a bummer.”
The lion’s body was found early Oct. 7, during the federal government’s shutdown. A park service biologist got emergency dispensation to acquire the carcass. Subsequent analysis of the lion’s DNA indicated that he had come from the north.
“That really points up the need for these corridors,” said Skip Haynes, co-director of Citizens for Los Angeles Wildlife, a group that works to protect and restore habitats. “They’re absolutely necessary to maintain the environment.”