As cities and highways have replaced forests and fields, Southern California’s mountain lions have found themselves living on small disconnected “islands” of nature. Separated by dangerous interstates, mountain lion populations have become increasingly isolated, causing genetic diversity to decrease dangerously. While that’s pretty worrisome, scientists studying Southern California’s mountain lions stumbled upon some good news this week: two healthy litters of mountain lion kittens living in the Santa Susana Mountains near Los Angeles.
National Geographic reports that biologist Jeffrey Sikich of the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area discovered the kittens. He’d been tracking the park’s adult mountain lions—who wear GPS collars—and had noticed that a male lion called P-38 had spent several days with a female lion called P-35 and then, a bit later, with a female lion known as P-39. Since mountain lions are generally solitary animals, Sikich began to wonder whether the lions had mated. Four months later, he decided to check, and discovered the two litters of kittens.
The two litters are big news for scientists worried about the survival of the species. Sikich hopes the kittens might one day migrate to other habitats, increasing the species’s genetic diversity—or at least teach scientists more about the species’s natural migration habits.
“Our lions in the Santa Monica Mountains have some of the lowest genetic diversity ever recorded outside the Florida panther, which nearly went extinct,” Sikich told National Geographic. “Monitoring these kittens, especially as they grow to [young adulthood], is especially valuable because it will help us understand how they disperse throughout the area."
[h/t National Geographic]
Banner Image Credit: National Geographic, YouTube