He isn’t as famous as P-22 the male cougar who has roamed the Hollywood Hills for years, but M317 is living an adventurous life in Orange County as he tries to establish a range and find a mate.
About 20 months old, the cat has wandered more than 100 miles from mountains to shore in his quest. He has crossed a highway and been near freeways. He has leaped walls to get away from people and apparently found enough to eat. He has wandered through residential areas and been captured. His capture resulted in his being tagged and tracked as researchers see if he beats the heavy odds. He may have only a 50-50 chance of surviving roadways and confrontations with older males and humans. Recently, P-97 a subject of the National Park Service Santa Monica Mountain Study, was killed crossing the 405 freeway near Brentwood.
Orange County is home to a number of lions living in the Santa Ana Mountains. It is to those mountains he was returned after collaring. But there he faces confrontations with a number of established males. He has skillfully used cover and patches of green terrain to navigate.
An over crossing is being built to accommodate cougars in the Santa Monica Mountain as the 101 Freeway blocks their access to open country and potential mates. An under crossing is being built near Santa Cruz where mountain lions, bobcats and other wildlife risk all for to eat and breed.
The cats face danger everywhere in the state. In a recent 5 year period 300 cougars were killed in California trying to cross roads. Authorities have begun to identify very dangerous areas and work to make them safer. The Annenberg over crossing is said to be the largest in the world. It has a hefty price tag of $87 million and required public and private support to go through.
Cougars are very widely, but thinly distributed in the Western Hemisphere. Although they can be found from Canada south to Patagonia, their populations are not dense. Many of the United States have none, whereas California and Oregon may have 6,000 each. In South and Central America, habitat loss has cut their numbers drastically.