The National Park Service captures, collars and monitors mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains just outside Los Angeles, California. This small patch of habitat is virtually isolated, surrounded by the ocean and uncrossable freeways.
Yet somehow, a small population of about a dozen lions has found a way to survive on this island of a mountain.
Recently, researchers released photos of two new kittens born this summer, and another teenage (18 month old) female lion setting out on her own for the first time.
Pictured in the two photos above is P-43. She is a young female found in a remote area of the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu Creek State Park. Researchers have been following her mom, P-23, since she was three weeks old, and this is her second litter of kittens. P-23 gained fame a few years back when a motorcyclist spotted her early one morning on top of a deer on Mulholland Highway.
A second female cub born this summer, P-44, makes her home much farther north, in the Santa Susana Mountains. Her mom is P-35, who was collared in April of 2014. P-35 is estimated to be about five years old and this is at least her second litter (biologists captured remote camera images traveling last year with older kittens).
Although DNA results are still not available, NPS field researcher Jeff Sikich thinks it is likely that P-38, a large male captured this past March, is the father. GPS data showed they traveled together for a few days three months before the kittens were born.
"Mountain lions are solitary animals and typically adults only spend time together if they're fighting or mating," said Sikich. "They're both alive and well, so my guess is that P-38 is the father."
Interestingly, these new research subjects are the only single litters they've documented since starting the study in 2002. These are the seventh and eighth litters marked at the den, though that number doesn't include two other litters discovered when the kittens were already at least six months old.
The other litters ranged in size from two to four kittens.
And finally, on another part of the mountain, P-42, a young female captured recently near Malibu Creek State Park and outfitted with a GPS collar was photographed. Biologists believe she had only recently dispersed from her mother, so it will be particularly interesting to see where she goes during this "teenage" period when she's out on her own. Eventually DNA results will help us learn more about who she is and how she is connected to the other animals in the mountains.
Life in the wild is hard for mountain lions, especially on the urban edge where habitat is limited, food can be laced with rat poison, depredation permits are issued, dangerous roads transect open spaces, wild fires are on the rise, and water availability is low. We wish these young female lions long and healthy lives.