Opinion: The short, sad life of the mountain lion kitten known as P-100
The 100th entry into the National Park Service study of mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains was a kitten, first spotted Nov. 29 huddled under a picnic table with her litter mates in Thousand Oaks near an office building. Biologists let them be for a day, hoping the mother lion had been out hunting for food and would find them.
No such luck. The following day, the crop of kittens — all female, about 6 weeks old, and chirping for their mother — took refuge in the brush in an adjacent park, most likely the area where they had been born. Biologists found them and promptly labeled them P’s 100-103. They were ear-tagged, outfitted with tiny expandable radio collars and fed some fluids.
But P-100 would not live to become a legend like P-22, the famous lion who roams Griffith Park. P-100’s time with that exalted designation lasted a mere day. She and P-102 died Dec. 1 even after all the lions, underfed and without their mother, had been taken to a local veterinarian.
The mixed fates of the litter are more examples of both the resilience and fragility of wildlife in a Southern California landscape that includes swaths of wilderness that abut treacherous roadways and populated office complexes (kudos to the observant office worker who alerted wildlife officials to the cluster of kittens).
The goal of the National Park Service’s nearly 20-year study has been to learn more about the lion population here and help improve its survival. We don’t know why the mother lion never came back for her kittens. National Park Service biologist Jeff Sikich, who was involved in tagging and checking out the kittens, speculates that she could have died or simply abandoned her brood. “Four kittens is a lot for one mother,” he told me.
Wildlife biologists took the kittens to a veterinarian, but two of them died. The other two kittens will be rehabilitated and housed at the Orange County Zoo until a permanent home can be found.
But the tissue specimens from all the kittens, including P-100, will help biologists learn more about their genetics and whether they can be traced to other lions that have been part of the study. “Are they more related to lions north of the 101 Freeway? Or maybe Mom was south of the freeway and crossed,” Sikich wonders. “We have never documented a litter in such a small patch of wilderness.”
The park near the office complex in Thousands Oaks is not vast. But it was large enough for a female lion to establish a home base, find food and give birth. It’s all the dangers around her — roads, prey that are toxic with rat poison — that made life dangerous for her and her kittens.
Those are all the dangers that we humans need to find ways to minimize for these animals by prohibiting the use of toxic rat poison and building routes for the lions to safely traverse the region. The much-anticipated construction of a wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills will help make it easier for lions to cross into new territory to find mates without having to risk their lives bounding across multiple lines of traffic.
The survivors, P-101 and P-103, are expected to spend the rest of their days at the Orange County Zoo, where they are temporarily in quarantine. They won’t be on exhibit until new habitats for big cats are finished in a couple of months. The kittens weighed four pounds when they arrived but have doubled in weight, according to zoo Manager Donald Zeigler.
That’s good. But the ideal situation would be to have all the lions born in the wilds of California live out their natural lives there.
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