Park rangers have found four furry cougar kittens living with their mother in the Simi Hills — the first den authorities have found in a small patch of terrain between the Santa Susana and Santa Monica mountain ranges, officials said.
The female blue-eyed kittens, now known as P-66, P-67, P-68 and P-69, were found on June 11 while their mother, P-62, was away from her den, the National Park Service announced Tuesday.
Wildlife researchers had been tracking P-62 since they first tagged her with a GPS tracker in January and eventually suspected she may be denning as her movements changed. Scientists had to wait until she was sufficiently away from her kittens so they could move in, find them and quickly assess their age, size and other characteristics.
The kittens were estimated to be four and a half weeks old and weigh four to five pounds.
“This is the first litter we have marked at the den in the Simi Hills, which happens to be a critical habitat linkage between the Santa Monica Mountains and larger natural areas to the north,” Jeff Sikich, biologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said in a statement. “We are very interested to learn about how they will navigate the fragmented landscape and whether they will remain in the Simi Hills or eventually cross one or more freeways to the north or south.”
Researchers have been concerned about the Santa Monica Mountains puma population for years and recent studies have shown just how isolated that particular group is. There’s the possibility that if more mountain lions aren’t introduced into the range in the years to come, that group could become extinct.
A similar plight faces the pumas living in the Santa Ana Mountains along the I-15 corridor in Orange County.
To help boost each group’s chance of survival, the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy have worked with outside groups to plan wildlife crossings lined with vegetation, grass and sound barriers that would span the 101 and 5 freeways, respectively.
The 101 crossing in Agoura Hills would provide the first permanent, protected structure that pumas could traverse between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills. The Simi Hills, meanwhile, generally serve as a transitory landscape for wildlife moving north into the Santa Susana Mountains if they can cross the 118 Freeway, and sometimes even farther into Los Padres National Forest in Santa Barbara County.