Another mountain lion found dead on California freeway

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Another mountain lion was found dead Wednesday on a Southern California freeway, prompting autthorities to say it was likely the latest of nearly two dozen cougars who have been struck while trying to cross roads that ring their territory.

The mountain lion was found dead on Interstate 101 in Calabasas, the California Highway Patrol tweeted.

The area is northwest of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, home to a number of mountain lions that are considered endangered because the region is hemmed in by roads and urban development.

The area “is basically an island,” said Ana Cholo, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service, which is helping studying the local cougar population. Some animals have been tagged with GPS collars and researchers have marked some kittens.

The carcass will be examined and genetically tested to determine whether the animal was among those under study. It didn’t appear to have a collar but may have lost it, Cholo said.

At least 21 other mountain lions have been killed by vehicles since 2002, when scientists with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area began studying the population, Cholo said.

“It clearly shows what the mountain lions are facing, living out here,” she said. “They have a tough time trying to carve out an existence for themselves.”

The area can only support around a dozen adult mountain lions, she said. Males are highly territorial and each needs 150 to 200 square miles of habitat. That means they have a tough time finding mates.

At least three mountain lions roaming Southern California have deformities linked to inbreeding, according to biologists who say the findings provide stark evidence of extremely low genetic diversity within the isolated population.

Recent studies suggest there’s an almost 1-in-4 chance that Southern California mountain lions could become extinct in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountain ranges within 50 years.

In April, the state Fish and Game Commission placed Southern California and Central Coast mountain lions on temporary status as endangered for a year while it reviews whether to formally protect them.

The area where the mountain lion carcass was found is only a few miles from the proposed site of an overpass that would allow cougars, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe crossing over Interstate 101. The $87 million crossing, supported mostly by private funding, has entered its final design phase and could break ground this year, with completion expected by 2023.

Officials say it will be the first of its kind near a major metropolis and the largest in the world, stretching 200 feet (61 meters) above 10 lanes of busy highway and a feeder road just 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of downtown LA.

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