Although biologists are pleased at the discovery of a 99th cougar in the Santa Monica Mountains study – a cougar that appears to be healthy – another recent study suggests inbreeding is worse than thought and the long-awaited Liberty Canyon overcrossing for wildlife can’t come a moment too soon.
The Liberty Canyon area, home to a housing development after which it is named, was selected by biologists who studied animal movements and picked the area as the site for the overcrossing. Public support kicked in, spearheaded by Savela cougars which connected some 4,000 interested personal, corporate and other donors who have contributed to the drive.
Biologists worldwide have realized that setting aside parks and other areas for wildlife is ineffective if isolated populations form with no way to intermingle and interbreed. This will eventually result in genetic problems and could lead to extinction. One of the key conservation goals is finding ways to allow animal traffic through and around human habitation. The Liberty Canyon pathway – to be known formally as the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing may be the biggest of its kind in the world. It will be named after Ms, Annenberg, who is a major philanthropist and donor. The Annenberg Foundation and the California Wildlife Conservation Board (WCB) topped the donor list for the overcrossing by giving $25 million each. About $12 million is needed to reach the $85 million goal set. The WCB is a California board whose purpose is to fund wildlife habitat protection efforts. The WCB currently has 15 different programs supporting various types of habitat protection.
Meanwhile, the one dozen collared cougars in the National Wildlife Service (NWS) study are both blissfully unaware of the coming overpass and showing more signs of inbreeding.
NWS researchers have noted kinked tails and undescended testicles for several years and felt the problem was serious, but a recent study suggests the problem is worse than was believed. The study was published in October in the journal Theriogenology, a specialized veterinary journal publishing in the field of animal reproductive biology. The American College of Theriogenologists is the membership organization in the field.
Essentially the study found more incidences of abnormal sperm than the NWS had found. Examination of five dead cougars found they all had abnormal sperm. The study as much as doubled the number of known abnormalities.