Mountain lion that crossed freeways died after California wildfire

Alex Dobuzinskis, Reuters

Posted at Dec 08 2018 05:44 AM

An adult male mountain lion known as P-64 walks through a tunnel heading south in this National Park Service photo captured near the Santa Monica Mountains, California, US, May 22, 2018. National Park Service/Handout via Reuters

LOS ANGELES - A Southern California mountain lion that crossed freeways dozens of times, evading potentially deadly traffic, has died after burning its paws during a wildfire, officials said on Friday.

The 4-year-old mountain lion, which biologists had tracked with a GPS collar and had named P-64, was roaming in the Simi Hills, northwest of Los Angeles, when the fire broke out nearby, Jeff Sikich, a biologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said in a statement. 

It apparently crossed an area burned by the Woolsey Fire, which erupted on Nov. 8 and scorched 97,000 acres (39,000 hectares) before being fully contained nearly 2 weeks later.

Biologists later followed P-64's movements over several miles before it hunkered down. On Dec. 3, Sikich discovered P-64's remains, paws burned, near the cat's last known GPS location.

The predator's exact cause of death was not known. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was set to conduct a necropsy.

P-64 was the only big cat biologists had observed consistently crossing the 101 Freeway to escape and reenter the Santa Monica Mountains, Kuykendall said. It had traversed the 101 Freeway 14 times and crossed the 118 Freeway further north 27 times.

P-64 is believed to have fathered 4 kittens born in May, the National Park Service said in a statement. Biologists have not been able to confirm whether the kittens or their mother survived the fire.

Since 2002, biologists have been tracking a number of mountain lions, including P-64, to study how they survive in a natural environment where urban streetscapes are encroaching.

"It's very unfortunate that he was seemingly so successful surviving in this fragmented landscape and then died in the aftermath of a devastating wildfire," Sikich said.