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Newborn Mountain Lion Kittens Discovered In Southern California [VIDEO]

Jan 19, 2016 11:48 AM EST
Two baby mountain lions
Two newborn mountain lions named P-46 and P-47 were recently found in the den of a grown female, P-19, in the Santa Monica Mountains.
(Photo : National Park Service)

Meet two of southern California's newest residents: Two baby mountain lions with bright blue eyes. Biologists from the National Park Service (NPS) stumbled upon the pair of kittens - one male and one female - in a remote den in the Santa Monica Mountains, west of Los Angeles, in December 2015. The young lions have since been designated with the tracking names P-46 and P-47 and have been implanted with electronic trackers that will allow scientists to monitor both animals in the wild.

"We continue to see successful reproduction, which indicates that the quality of the natural habitat is high for such a relatively urbanized area," Jeff Sikich, a biologist from the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said in a news release

According to the NPS's monitoring, a female mountain lion, P-19, may be the mother of the two kittens. P-19's GPS locations remained in the area of the den over a three-week period, suggesting that she was nursing her newborn kittens. (Scroll to read more...) 

The father of the two newborn kittens, however, remains a mystery. Sikich and his colleagues have been monitoring P-19 since 2010, when she was still only a few weeks old. Her previous two litters were the result of inbreeding with her father, P-12, but scientists say there has been no activity recorded from his collar since March 2015. Therefore, DNA testing is underway to determine whether the new litter was fathered by P-12, or perhaps a newly discovered adult male known as P-45, who has been tracked by the NPS since November. 

NPS biologists hope the kittens' father is unrelated to P-19, as inbreeding is considered to be one of the biggest threats to Santa Monica mountain lions and their long-term survival, since their population is essentially "trapped" or limited to a kind of "island habitat." Inbreeding ultimately leads to low genetic diversity, which can eventually lead to low reproduction, Sikich said in a statement

"Our mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains ... have the lowest genetic diversity ever recorded of any mountain lion population besides the Florida panther that went nearly extinct," he added.

Creating a wildlife crossing over 101 Freeway in Agora Hills has been proposed, as a means of linking large portions of natural habitats from the Sierra Madres to the Santa Monica Mountains, in turn solving the genetic diversity problem. 

This is the ninth litter of mountain lions found by the NPS at a Santa Monica Mountains den site. Aside from crossing busy freeways, researchers say the kittens have many challenges ahead of them, including evading other mountain lions and dealing with exposure to rat poison.

"Young kittens, a big challenge for them is avoiding any adult male," Sikich said. "Adult male lions have been known to kill young kittens."

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