The late P-22 was the most famous of the mountain lions in the National Park Service (NPS) study. That study began in 2002 and chronicles the difficult life of cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains.
The number of cats collared is well above 100 today. But quite a few have died or been killed in traffic accidents. The number 100 is misleading in a sense. NPS estimates that the Santa Monica Mountains can only sustain up to 15 of the big cats. The rest either disperse, which is very dangerous, are killed, die of natural causes or die of conflict with other cougars.
For example, P01, the first male in the study, actually killed his mate, P-02. She was. the mother of some of his kittens. Researchers don’t fully understand why . It is possible the fight was over food or she was protecting her kittens. Cougars do fight for such reasons. It is thought the confined space of the Santa Monica Mountains makes conflict worse. Prior to P-022, P-01 was the dominant mountain lion in the region. He lived a long life. He was “biologically successful” because he fathered several litters.
NPS sometimes discovers cats that are not offspring of collared cats. That raises a question mark about the exact number of cougars in the region.
P-099, for example, was captured in the fall of 2021. She was not in the study. It is unknown who her parents are. She was healthy at the time and the NPS felt she had enough to eat. She has since given birth to a litter of her own.
Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) are the principal prey in the region. A deer weighs about 100 pounds and can sustain a cat, which has a similar weight. Mountain lions will eat smaller prey. The presences of pesticides in their smaller meals can lead to mange.
Dozens of litters of kittens have been born during the study period. P-109, P-110, P-111, and P-112 are a litter captured and tagged in August 2022. Their mother is P-99, According to NPS.
“Each visit to a den by a biologist occurs while the mother is away hunting for food, feeding, or just resting. A biologist will track her movements via telemetry, while colleagues approach the den area. Once the den is found, the researchers will conduct a full workup on the kittens a short distance away from the den and place them back at the den when finished. This typically takes less than one hour.”
“The biologists perform a physical exam, determine the sex of each kitten, take various body measurements (including weight), obtain biological samples, and place one uniquely numbered and colored ear tag on each of the kittens. This tag helps to identify them in the future with remote cameras and when recaptured for the placement of a radio collar. The kittens are all returned to the den before their mother comes back.”
Sometimes kittens are abandoned for unknown reasons. A litter of four was found orphaned under a bench in Thousand Oaks recently. Two of the kittens survived and eventually found a permanent home in the Orange County Zoo.