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SoCal mountain lion cubs show signs of inbreeding

Preliminary DNA evidence shows that P-32, one of three cubs recently born in the Santa Monica Mountains, is inbred.
Preliminary DNA evidence shows that P-32, one of three cubs recently born in the Santa Monica Mountains, is inbred.
National Park Service via Flickr

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Scientists and ecologists celebrated the births of three mountain lion kittens in the Santa Monica mountains last month, but new information about those cubs may prove troubling.

DNA testing shows inbreeding in these new cubs, and that could pose yet another challenge for the big cats who already face many issues surviving in close proximity to freeways, people and one another.

RELATED: The delicate task of tracking the elusive California mountain lion

Over the years, researchers have found seven mountain lions that were the products of inbreeding, Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with the National Park Service, told the Associated Press.

Riley says the kittens were healthy but there's concern that without new blood, eventually inbreeding could cause physical defects, such as heart problems and sterility. The lions live in a patchwork of local, state and federal parkland that stretches westward from Los Angeles into Ventura County.

"The way mountain lion populations work is that all young males typically disperse and even half of the young females disperse," Riley told Take Two. "It's almost impossible in this situation."

The area is surrounded by densely populated areas and is bounded by such major highways as U.S. 101, which is heavily developed along most of its length. Young male mountain lions that typically would seek their own territories have been unable to leave and have been killed by an older male, Riley said.

Only one puma, P-12, has been able to cross the 101 freeway in the 11 years researchers have been tracking the animals, Riley told Take Two. But despite bringing new DNA material into the area, he sired the inbred cubs with his own daughter. 

"The major issue is the fact that the 101 is just a development corridor, so there's almost no place where there's natural habitat next to the freeway," Riley said on Take Two.  "They seem to be trying to disperse, they bump right up against development on the 101 or they bump up against the 405...many times they end up getting killed by an adult male, who they can't escape from, or they get hit on the 405 or somewhere else."

A mountain lion was killed by a car on the 101 in October 2013. 

The recreation area, state parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the California Department of Transportation and others have long sought about $10 million in funding to create a wildlife corridor in the Agoura Hills area — essentially, a tunnel that would allow the mountain lions and other animals to cross under U.S. 101.

 With contributions from the Associated Press