On May 16, 2013, a mountain lion in Santa Cruz, California became the center of national attention. While roaming near downtown, the lion jumped a chain-link fence and became trapped in a drainage aqueduct.
Local police, state Fish and Wildlife, and lion researchers from U.C. Santa Cruz all came together to rescue the lion. He was tranquilized, fitted with a tracking collar, and released into the nearby Forest of Nisene Marks State Park.
In June, researchers gave an update that the lion, now named 39M, was doing well. He appeared to be looking for an available territory and was feeding on deer and raccoons. He had even successfully crossed the treacherous Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains several times.
Unfortunately, on Halloween morning his luck ran out. While trying to cross Highway 17, 39M was stuck and killed by a vehicle. A pregnant female lion was also recently killed on that same stretch of road.
Lions need wildlife crossings in order to survive on the urban edge. The Laurel Curve crossing point has been especially fatal for Santa Cruz's mountain lions. Caltrans recently improved the road to make it safer for drivers, including the installation of a large safety barrier between oncoming traffic. But construction work ultimately removed a large culvert that lions and other wildlife were using to safely pass under the highway.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Caltrans, mountain lion researchers, and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County are looking for ways to provide safer passages for wildlife in the region, and specifically Laurel Curve.
"It's not a fully developed project yet," Land Trust Executive Director Terry Corwin said. "We're working with Caltrans, and we'll be buying a property near Laurel Curve, with the intent of creating an underground passage."
The crossing will come too late for 39M, but hopefully someday soon, lions will be able to safely pass back and forth under Highway 17.