October 25, 2014

DNA Results Shed Light on Dead Santa Monica Mountain Lion

 

Recently released DNA results from the mountain lion that wandered into downtown Santa Monica confirm the young male was genetically tied to the local population and not a pet.

Significantly, the animal was found south of the 101 Freeway and yet possessed genetic material from populations north of the freeway, a rare bright spot for a group of animals that is suffering from an extreme lack of genetic diversity. Out of concern for public safety, Santa Monica police killed the lion after attempts to sedate it failed.

“The biggest threat to mountain lions in this region is the loss and fragmentation of their habitat because of past and current urbanization,” said Seth Riley, an expert on urban wildlife with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area (SMMNRA). “Over the long-term, isolation of a small population of large carnivores such as mountain lions can result in inbreeding, reduced genetic diversity and even significant genetic defects.”

Because the Santa Monica lion is genetically linked to lion populations north of the 101 Freeway, biologists speculate he may be the son of Puma 12, known as P-12. P-12 is the only mountain lion documented to successfully cross the 101 Freeway, thereby contributing new genetic material to the isolated lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Alternatively, the Santa Monica lion may have himself crossed the freeway. In either case, the lion could have contributed unique genetic diversity to the genetically homogenous population in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Lions from the Santa Monica Mountains are hemmed in by the 101 and 405 freeways, making the lack of genetic diversity a serious threat to their long-term survival.

National Park Service biologists, along with other community groups, will participate in a meeting with the Santa Monica Police Department in late June to help formulate a strategy for addressing this unique case, should it arise again.