A female mountain lion who gave birth to three highly photogenic kittens earlier this year was struck and killed by a vehicle this month while crossing the 118 Freeway near Chatsworth, wildlife officials announced Thursday.
National Park Service biologists think the 5-year-old mountain lion known as P-39 was hit by a car on Dec. 3 east of the Rocky Peak exit near Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park. Her remains have not been found, although researchers have recovered her tracking collar.
"Navigating our complex road network is a major challenge for mountain lions in this region," biologist Jeff Sikich said in a statement. "Unfortunately, it's unlikely that the kittens have developed the hunting skills to survive without their mom."
Researchers had been tracking P-39 since April 2015, and images of her offspring — P-50, P-51 and P-52 — were widely circulated online this summer. The kittens were about 4 weeks old when they were discovered in their den on June 22.
The park service didn't learn that a car had struck an animal on the road until several days after it happened, the agency said in its news release. "Researchers suspected P-39 may have been the victim because her GPS collar stopped functioning and she was in the general vicinity a few hours before the collision, but the remains of the animal were never located and witnesses who saw the animal did not report seeing a collar."
Sikich, who works with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, searched nearby mountains and roads and finally found the damaged GPS collar this week in the freeway's center divider. He thinks P-39's collar flew off when she was struck by the automobile.
P-39 was the first mountain lion to be caught and outfitted with a collar, which allowed researchers to track her movement throughout the L.A. mountains.
A male mountain lion known as P-38 is believed to have fathered her kittens.
Researchers said P-39 had previously produced at least one other litter of kittens.
P-39 is the 13th mountain lion to be killed on Los Angeles County roads since researchers began tracking the animals in 2002.
She had mostly remained in the natural area north of the 118 Freeway. But days before she was killed, she had crossed the freeway for the first time.
Researchers do not know if P-39's kittens were with her at the time of the crash.
Last year, the California Department of Transportation proposed building a landscaped bridge over the 101 Freeway near Liberty Canyon Road in Agoura Hills to connect the Santa Monica Mountains with the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains and provide a corridor for wildlife movements.
Wildlife advocates say the 165-foot-wide, 200-foot-long crossing would reduce deaths of mountain lions and other animals trying to trek across the hillsides. L.A.'s network of freeways, they say, are a major barrier for mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains.
"While viable crossing points are critical to increase connectivity, fencing is also needed to reduce mortality and increase usage," the park service said in a statement.
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