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California Mountain Lions May Be Reunited By Freeway Overpass

Oct 20, 2014 04:27 PM EDT

A population of California mountain lions has been split up because of local freeways and construction, but they may soon be reunited with the construction of an overpass, reports say.

Conservationists are trying to raise $4 million to build a special freeway overpass for mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains that are trapped, keeping them from breeding with other California lion populations. This type of habitat fragmentation, as it's called, is resulting in a rather messy ordeal, with lions inbreeding and killing each other off.

"There's almost no movement out [of the Santa Monica Mountains]. That's resulting in fathers mating with daughters, adult males killing close relatives or killing their offspring," Seth Riley of the National Park Service told the Los Angeles Times back in August.

According to Riley, the proposed overpass would help these mountain lions, also known as cougars, cross the road and get to the other side. And to make it look as natural as possible, the bridge would be carpeted with trees and grass, The Telegraph reported.

A $2 million grant to build the overpass submitted by the California Department of Transportation was turned down, so campaigners are now trying to raise the money independently.

There are an estimated 100,000 mountain lions in North America, mostly living in western regions, but they are an elusive bunch, and so are rarely seen.

However, one in particular, known as P12, was spotted in recent years, and officials have kept a close eye on him for special reasons. P12 is the first known mountain lion, a male no less, to have successfully negotiated the ever increasing traffic in recent years.

"He (P12) came from the north and had a lot of genetic material that was new," Riley told NPR. "Fortunately not only did he survive, but he then became a dominant breeding male."

But unfortunately, one new cat can't fix the inbreeding problem. The overpass may be the cats' only chance for survival, and according to Riley, the benefits outweigh the costs.

"It's expensive, it's gonna take some time, but I think it would be an amazing statement about wildlife and conservation in the second-largest metropolitan area in the country," Riley said. "Everyone that would drive that freeway would see, 'Wow, they put something over this freeway specifically for wildlife.' "

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