Tragedy has once again visited a pack of mountain lions struggling to survive in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Wildlife officials said Friday that a female mountain lion kitten known as P-51 was struck and killed by a car while crossing the 118 Freeway — the same freeway that claimed the lives of her mother and a sibling late last year.
The carcass of the 8-month-old kitten was retrieved in Simi Valley by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Jan. 14. It was found one mile east of Rocky Peak near Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park, according to wildlife officials.
"Unfortunately, this case illustrates the challenges for mountain lions in the region, where roads are both major barriers to movement and potential sources of mortality," wildlife ecologist Seth Riley said in a statement. "The area where these animals were killed is part of a critical wildlife corridor that connects the genetically isolated population in the Santa Monica Mountains to what is considered the nearest source population, in Los Padres National Forest."
The kitten's mother — a mountain lion known as P-39 — was struck and killed by a car on Dec. 3 east of Rocky Peak as well. Weeks later, the kitten's brother — P-52 — was also killed by vehicle on the same freeway.
P-51 and P-52 belonged to an adorable trio of blue-eyed kittens who gained national fame when their images were widely circulated on the Internet last summer. The kittens were about 4 weeks old when they were discovered in their den on June 22.
It's unknown whether P-50 has managed to survive longer than his brother and sister.
"We haven't seen evidence of P-50 since he was 4 weeks old, so we're really not sure if he is alive," said Kate Kuykendall, spokeswoman for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. "The same was true of P-51 and P-52 prior to them being discovered on the 118, too."
Researchers had been tracking the mother of the litter since April 2015, when she was outfitted with a collar to track her movements. The mother's remains have not been found, although researchers have recovered her tracking collar.
After their mother's death, wildlife officials feared that the kittens hadn't developed the hunting skills to survive without her.
But so far, it looks like their mother taught them a thing or two about hunting.
A necropsy performed on P-52 showed that he weighed only 24 pounds, although he had adequate fat reserves. He had also recently fed on a skunk, which wildlife officials is typical prey for a young lion learning to hunt.
"Whether or not these kittens had the ability to feed was a subject of much discussion," Marc Kenyon, the department's mountain lion conservation program coordinator, said in statement. "Apparently, their mother had taught them predatory skills within their first six to seven months, and we're hopeful the necropsy on P-51 confirms this, too."
According to wildlife officials, P-51 is the 17th known case of a mountain lion being killed on a freeway or road since researchers began tracking the animals in the Santa Monica Mountains since 2002.
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.
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2:50 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area spokeswoman Kate Kuykendall.