By now you probably know that Los Angeles is home to a handful of mountain lions, making it by some accounts the only mega-city on the planet that's home to groups of large cats. And those cats somehow manage to hunt, mate and defend their territories despite the massive tangle of roads and highways that gives the region its reputation for insane traffic jams – at least for those cats lucky enough to survive crossing those freeways and to then find a suitable mate.
This week, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that they've spotted two new mountain lion kittens in their research area, both around three to four weeks old, offering more proof that at least some lions have figured out how to carve out an existence in this human-dominated landscape.
One kitten, dubbed P-43 since she's the forty-third cat included in the study, was found in the coastal part of the Santa Monica Mountains, a range that extends west from Hollywood towards the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. Her mother is called P-23, and NPS researchers have also been following her since she was just three weeks old.
P-23's first litter of kittens was fathered by P-12, who also happens to be her own father. With the cats' movements hampered by fast cars and wide highways, researchers are worried that this sort of inbreeding will eventually become problematic. For now, the lions are not yet showing any outward signs of inbreeding-related problems. It isn't yet clear who P-43's father is, but NPS biologists collected her DNA and hope to soon find out.
Meanwhile, a kitten called P-44 was discovered in the next mountain range to the north, the Santa Susana Mountains. Her mother is the five-year-old P-35. Researchers suspect that this is also P-35's second litter, since camera traps showed her moving about last year with offspring. Her mate last year was a large male called P-38. Researchers suspect he's P-44's father as well, since the two adults were seen travelling together around three months before the kitten was born (and adult mountain lions are only ever found together for one of two reasons: fighting or mating).
NPS reports that these are the only single-kitten litters they've documented since the study began in 2002. The other litters they observed have all ranged in size from two to four kittens.
We'll be keeping our eyes on these kittens as they grow up and move off in search of their own territories and mating opportunities. With any luck, they won't succumb to the fate that has doomed so many of their counterparts.
Top header image: National Park Service