Environment & Science

Has another mountain lion crossed the 405?

File photo of the 405 Freeway
File photo of the 405 Freeway
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It's the kind of wildlife story that can only be told in Los Angeles, complete with a blurry, paparazzi-esque photo and celebrities of both the human and animal variety. 

If it's true, it could mean big news for wildlife lovers in LA. 

A picture recently posted to Twitter suggests that another mountain lion may have crossed the 405 Freeway, a feat only known to have occurred once before by P-22, the famed cougar of Griffith Park.

The Twitter account that posted the picture appears to belong to Christopher Stills, a musician and actor. He is also the son of rock musician Stephen Stills, who is famed for being part of many notable bands, including Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash. 

A companion tweet reads that the picture was taken near the gated community of Beverly Park, which sits west of Franklin Canyon Park. The message urges caution for people in the area. 

Tweet by @chrisstills

Beth Pratt, California Director at the National Wildlife Federation, included the picture and tweet in a newsletter update to supporters of an effort to raise funds for a wildlife crossing over the 101 in the west San Fernando Valley.

Pratt wrote in the email that she had been notified of the picture by David Crosby (also of Crosby, Stills & Nash), to whom she had previously told the story of P-22. Crosby told her, "Stephen Stills’ son, Chris, spotted a mountain lion in Los Angeles the other night and took a good photo." 

KPCC reached out to the owner of the Twitter account to get the details of how he came by the picture, but no response was received by the time this story was posted.

Did the cougar cross the road?

If the photo correctly places the mountain lion in the Beverly Park area, it would be significant, because the spot lies to the east of where the 405 Freeway passes through the Santa Monica Mountains. For the puma to be on the east side of the freeway, it would most likely have had to cross from where a population of lions live in the mountains to the west.

The busy freeway tends to act as a wall to large mammals, and only P-22 has ever been known to have made the journey. 

An official with the National Park Service at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area said he has been unable to verify that the photo places a mountain lion east of the 405. 

"Random photos that appear on the Internet are never something that we take as very solid evidence of much," said Seth Riley, a wildlife biologist whose work includes studying pumas in the Santa Monica Mountains. "We generally look for quite a bit more in terms of reliable information about wildlife before we get too excited about it."

Riley said that the photograph is not clear enough to discern information about the cat's gender, age or condition. He did say that the animal in the photograph resembles a mountain lion and not a bobcat, which has confused many an eyewitness.

"You can tell from the tail and the body that that's clearly not a bobcat," Riley said.

Riley said that the purported mountain lion is not one that his project is currently monitoring via a GPS collar. 

He said no pictures of mountain lions had ever been taken in that area. The first photograph of pioneering P-22 was taken after that animal crossed yet another freeway — the 101 further east.  

Riley said that plenty of other wild creatures are known to exist in that area, including deer, which are the main food source for mountain lions. 

Scientists with the National Park Service and Caltrans monitor four bridges and underpasses where animals might be likely to cross the 405. Riley said his team would check wildlife cameras at those locations next week for signs that a puma may have crossed, though he cautioned that a mountain lion could cross the freeway at locations that are not monitored.

Some of the monitored sites recently received mitigation to aid wildlife, due to construction on the 405. Riley said finding evidence that a mountain lion was using one of the new wildlife crossings would be groundbreaking. 

"We will certainly be checking our cameras from all of those places," Riley said. "We have never gotten — and we've been doing this project for many years now — any photos of lions crossing the 405."

If a lion has crossed the 405, it will have cleared the first hurdle that P-22 took on its journey into Griffith Park. Riley said that a repeat performance of this crossing does not diminish the notion that busy roads act as barriers, as most data show the animals avoid such behavior.

"Even if another lion did it, it's still extremely rare," Riley said.