While Los Angeles is known for its celebrities and massive freeways it’s also home to an abundance of wildlife–with one of the more well-known animal stars being the mountain lions that call the Santa Monica Mountains home. Sadly, these big cats are facing extinction and their numbers continue to dwindle as a result of traffic accidents, urban encroachment, geographic isolation/inbreeding, and now a growing threat of wildfires. The National Wildlife Federation explained that these factors have created a population of lions with the lowest genetic diversity measured anywhere in the entire U.S. outside of Florida panthers. Now a new study published in the journal Ecological Applications revealed that unless humans take meaningful action, the mountain lions will face an “extinction vortex” and there’s an almost one-in-four chance that they will become extinct in 50 years.
- Sometimes, the animals manage to cross freeways without getting hit. At least seven cougars have crossed the 15 Freeway near Temecula, CA in the last 15 years, and one sired 11 kittens. The fact that only one managed to reproduce, however, shows how difficult it is to diversify the gene pool in the lions still prowling the range.
- A population viability study published in the journal Ecological Applications predicts extinction probabilities of 16% to 28% over the next 50 years for these lions.
- Study authors note also that wildfire and disease could result in “catastrophic mortality” and further hasten the animals’ disappearance.
Why This Matters: As humans, we have to learn to coexist with nature and the animals that also call our backyards home. The study suggested that increasing genetic diversity by creating wildlife crossings where new lions can mate with the Santa Monica lions can go a long way in helping their population survive. As Earther explained, models based on a DNA analysis of living mountain lions found that one immigrant a year brought the chance of extinction in the next 50 years down to 5 percent. The Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing is an existing proposal that would create a bridge over Highway 101 and give the cats a safe pathway to find mates and safely cross the busy road–however, the project needs to secure funding and there’s no time to waste to help save these special animals! Just look at these faces!