Sad news from the world of Southern California's big cats. Mountain lion P-23 was found dead earlier this week in the Santa Monica Mountains, likely hit by a vehicle.
Using telemetry, a biologist with the National Park Service discovered her body off to the side of Malibu Canyon Road just north Francisco Ranch Road.
P-23, a 5½-year-old female, was part of a study by federal biologists. Researchers started following her when she was just weeks old, she was monitored as she left her mother, and she was tracked as she established her own home range and had three litters of kittens.
Kate Kuykendall, a spokesperson with the National Park Service, says this kind of long-term tracking can offer invaluable insights into how mountain lions live.
"Any time you lose a mountain lion, it's sad because, of course, you get a little bit attached to their stories of survival. From a biological perspective, it's also sad because mountain lions are low density animals. So the loss of a breeding female in the mountains is disappointing," Kuykendall told KPCC.
Her youngest offspring are two one year-old kittens, P-54 and an unnumbered cat. Both are expected to survive without her.
P-23's premature death shows the challenge facing the cats as they try to navigate the region's roads.
Since 2002, the National Park Service has documented 18 mountain lions that have been struck and killed by vehicles in the Santa Monica and Santa Susana Mountains.
Freeways also hem in mountain lions and lead to inbreeding. P-23's father was P-12, who was also her grandfather. She later mated with him as well.
"There's many challenges to survive as a mountain lion in this area, whether its roads or rat poison," Kuykendall says. But the number one cause of death is mountain lions killing other mountain lions.
"Most all the deaths of mountain lions are, at some level, related to people," says Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with the National Park Service. He says although mountain lions kill each other in areas far from people, he says, "It's more common because the animals in the Santa Monica mountains are hemmed in by freeways. Young animals aren't able to disperse so they end up getting into these fights more frequently."
P-41, a male mountain lion, was found dead in the Verdugo Mountains in October. A necropsy revealed he had six different anti-coagulant rodenticides in his body.
Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife will perform a necropsy on P-23. It should be completed in about a month.
In 2013, P-23 has a brush with fame. A startled cyclist was riding by when he spotted her dragging a deer off Mulholland Highway and a passing driver stopped to take a photo of the scene. The image went viral on Facebook.