It was a daring feat that had killed others that had tried it: The mountain lion known as P-61 crossed the 405 Freeway in July, leaving his home territory in the Santa Monica Mountains on the Westside for unknown hills to the east. But in the end, he couldn’t make his way back home. The 4-year old male was struck and killed early Saturday morning on the freeway in the pass near Bel Air Crest Road.
Los Angeles can be treacherous for mountain lions. Poisons, wildfires and endless streams of traffic all make navigating the urban landscape to seek out what remains of the wild a difficult task. And dealing with both may have gotten P-61 killed. The mountain lion, collared and enrolled in the longtime National Park Service study of the pumas, may have encountered an uncollared mountain lion, believed to be roaming in the hills east of the 405. Pumas are brutally territorial. P-61 may have retreated from the eastern hills to save his own life only to die in traffic trying to get to safe territory.
It’s a sad reminder that, if we value the presence of these wild animals in our midst, we have to work harder to make it easier for them to survive. The California Legislature just squandered a great opportunity to protect mountain lions by stalling a bill that would have banned second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides. Mountain lions that eat animals killed by the rat poison end up sick or dead themselves. It’s ridiculous that legislators caved to the pesticide industry on this.
If we don’t want them to die on roads and freeways, we need to create more wildlife corridors. It’s great that the California Department of Transportation is using mostly private funds to build an $87-million, state-of-the-art wildlife bridge across the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. But there should be some safe route across the 405 as well. There is some fencing along that freeway now to discourage a giant leap by a puma onto the freeway, but the fence needs to be taller.
Los Angeles has a lot of problems it needs to solve, so mountain lions may not seem so high up on the urgency scale. But we don’t have to build them permanent supportive housing or slash their carbon emissions. We just have to consider them an important enough element of our environment to work on ways to keep them here.