In less than two weeks in January, three mountain lion kittens were struck and killed by vehicles while they were trying to cross busy roads. One was killed on Kanan Dume Road in Malibu and two others were hit on the 126 Freeway in northwest Los Angeles County.
These are just the latest casualties. Wildlife biologists tracking Los Angeles' fragile mountain lion population have documented 13 cougars killed by vehicles in the last 12 years.
Angelenos have helped save the whales, advocated for elephants and protested to protect wild horses. Where's the passion for the pumas?
You'd think there would be more concern. There are about 15 adult mountain lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains, but they're hemmed in by freeways and the ocean. The 15 are not enough to maintain long-term genetic viability, according to Seth Riley, an urban wildlife expert at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Last year, the National Park Service found three kittens born in the mountains that appeared to be the result of inbreeding, which over time can lead to heart problems and defective sperm and can threaten the viability of the population.
For more than a decade, the Park Service and wildlife scientists have pushed for a $10-million tunnel under the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, so wildlife from the Santa Susana Mountains could mingle with wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains. Last year the federal government rejected a funding request for the crossing. There's a study underway to determine whether a tunnel, overpass or some other means of bypass would be appropriate. But nobody knows how to pay for the project, and there's real concern that the study will languish, with no action taken.
The mountain lions need a lobbyist or some advocates to storm Sacramento and Washington to drum up greater support for their preservation. Maybe California could adopt a specialty mountain lion license plate to raise money for wildlife crossings.
In Los Angeles, we're lucky that it takes only a short drive on the freeway to experience the Santa Monica Mountains and wild, open nature. But we don't often think about the impact of that proximity.