Catch 'em while you can. Flickr/National Park Service

Their best hope: a proposed freeway wildlife crossing.

The mountain lions of Los Angeles have made a big splash over the past few years, especially since the National Park Service discovered one charismatic male, dubbed P-22, living not far from the Hollywood Sign in the Santa Monica Mountains. But their days may be numbered. According to new research published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the urban cat population faces a strong likelihood of extinction within half a century.

Using demographic, genetic, and environmental factors, researchers from the NPS, UCLA, UC Davis and Utah State University estimated survival odds for the tiny population of mountain lions who live penned in by freeways and urban development in greater Los Angeles. (The researchers believe that there are roughly 15 in the Santa Monica Mountains at any given time.) Although the animals are already inbreeding, so far they’ve managed to keep up fairly healthy rates of population growth. But their genetic diversity is likely to sharply decline in coming decades, and that could start to drag on their ability to survive and reproduce, a phenomenon known as “inbreeding depression.” If it occurs among the Santa Monica Mountains population, the cats have a 99.7 chance of vanishing within 50 years, the researchers found.

That might be happy news for the hikers who are occasionally menaced by the big cats, but sad for a lot of other reasons. Urban biodiversity seems to be a good thing, and the popularity of L.A.’s hometown mountain lions has helped raise awareness among Angelenos about other kinds of wildlife. Luckily, there is a glimmer of hope for the charismatic felines: A wildlife crossing over Highway 101, a major urban barrier for many species in the Santa Monica Mountains, would allow animals to enter in and out of the mountain lion’s current isolated range. A proposal for such a crossing is currently in the works by CalTrans, and private fundraising efforts so far have raised about $1 million. The researchers of the new paper say that such a bridge could be the SoCal cougars’ best chance of survival.

"If we were able to get one new mountain lion every two years or, even every four years, it would considerably lower extinction probability," John Benson, the lead author and a post-doctoral researcher at UCLA, told KPCC.

What’s an urban wildlife lover to do? Head on over to Save LA Cougars to pitch into the crossing project. And while you’re at it, don’t use rat poison, and support the preservation of natural spaces within cities. It’s good for all animals, humans included.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. A man and a woman shop at a modern kiosk by a beach in a vintage photo.
    Design

    Why Everyday Architecture Deserves Respect

    The places where we enact our daily lives are not grand design statements, yet they have an underrated charm and even nobility.

  2. a photo of Los Angeles in 1962
    Transportation

    Mapping the Effects of the Great 1960s ‘Freeway Revolts’

    Urbanites who battled the construction of the Interstate Highway System in the 1960s saved some neighborhoods—but many highways did transform cities.

  3. A photo of anti-gentrification graffiti in Washington, D.C.
    Equity

    The Hidden Winners in Neighborhood Gentrification

    A new study claims the effects of neighborhood change on original lower-income residents are largely positive, despite fears of spiking rents and displacement.

  4. a photo of a small fleet of electric Chevrolet Bolts cars.
    Transportation

    Should Electric Vehicle Drivers Pay Per Mile?

    Since EV drivers zip past gas taxes, they don’t contribute to the federal fund for road maintenance. A new working paper tries to determine whether plug-ins should pay up.

  5. An ornately decorated yellow doorway with gold doors stands out on a row of brick buildings with commercial shopfronts.
    Design

    Reading the Story of London’s Hindus Through Temple Architecture

    Ranging from adapted historic buildings to ornate cultural centers, London’s Hindu temples tell of waves of immigration to Britain and increasing visibility.

×