A male mountain lion was hit by a car and killed Tuesday morning while attempting to cross Malibu Canyon Road. Named P-9, it was one of two males in the Santa Monica Mountains known to exist and was being tracked by the National Park Service through a GPS system attached to a collar.
A Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputy told The Malibu Times that at approximately 7 a.m. a car being driven by a man named Bill Thomas, traveling northbound on Malibu Canyon Road about a half-mile north of Pepperdine University, hit the mountain lion as it crossed the road. Dr. Duane Tom, the head veterinarian from the California Wildlife Center, said the mountain lion was not immediately killed, but died shortly after the collision.
Although the mountain lion had a deep, three-inch gash above its left leg, Tom said most likely it was not the cause of the lion’s death. He said it was probably due to head trauma. But Tom cautioned that it is difficult to determine the cause of death until a necropsy is performed.
The mountain lion was taken to an office of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Lab in San Bernardino for a necropsy. Dr. Ray Sauvajot, an ecologist who studies local mountains lions for the National Park Service, said more important than determining how the mountain lion died, is studying the body, which will allow them to examine the overall health status of the animal and give an idea about how the small population of mountain lions is doing in the area.
With Tuesday’s death, only two mountain lions are still being tracked by the National Park Service, although it is believed there could be as many as 10 living in the area. With the GPS device attached to a collar, scientists are able to observe the movements of the animals.
“We’re looking at a variety of things,” Sauvajot said. “We monitor locations, estimate home range sizes; whether they’re using corridors, if they’re dispersing in and out of the mountain range and how frequently they do that… how mountain lions survive in what is clearly a complicated surrounding.”
The observation of the mountain lion that died Tuesday began less than two months ago. Although some from the National Park Service believe the animal had been in the area for a long time, Sauvajot said he believes P-9 was a recent addition to the area.
“When this one arrived, the other [male mountain lion] shifted his home range,” Sauvajot said. “That suggested that this guy came from somewhere else. And he was old enough, five or six, that it would have been difficult to think he’d been around without us noticing him.”
P-9 may have been responsible for the mauling death of a young mountain lion in the fall and the killing of a deer at Pepperdine University in June. But National Park Service officials cannot confirm this.
Sauvajot said P-9’s death is an unfortunate circumstance of Malibu Canyon Road being small enough that a mountain lion thinks it can easily cross it. This is opposed to a freeway, which an animal would be less inclined to attempt to cross. A car hit another mountain lion in 2004 in the same area of Malibu Canyon Road three years ago.
Sauvajot said he is hoping that the mountain lions and other animals could be encouraged to go under roads, such as crossing Malibu Creek in the Malibu Canyon area, rather than attempting the deadly run. He said this could be done through the creation of fencing that would direct them away from road surfaces and the expanding of existing culverts to create wildlife-specific tunnels. He said such projects could become a reality through the further study of the mountain lions’ movements.
But Sauvajot fears the program studying the animals could be at-risk because of a lack of funding. Funding for the $100,000-per-year program, which is part of the nonprofit Santa Monica Mountains Fund, comes from state, federal and private grants. Sauvajot said the program is not receiving some of the grants it had previously.
Those interested in supporting the program can make a donation at www.samofund.org. For more information, call 805.370.2341.