A mountain lion who was struck and killed on the San Diego (405) Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass in September was being chased by another lion, according to surveillance video released Wednesday by National Park Service researchers.
The lion dubbed P-61 was killed around 4 a.m. Sept. 7 while trying to cross the freeway from east to west between Bel Air Crest Road and the Sepulveda Boulevard underpass, according to the NPS. P-61 had successfully crossed the freeway from west to east in the same area in July, a feat only known to have been achieved by one other lion.
According to the NPS, grainy surveillance video from about 3 a.m. Sept. 7 shows P-61 being chased by another unknown lion and climbing into a tree. The pursuing lion climbs the same tree about two minutes later.
Video captures two lions dropping out of the tree about a half-hour later and running away, one following the other. A third video shows P-61 crossing a road and heading south, adjacent to the 405 Freeway. The other lion — which was not wearing a GPS collar and was not being tracked by the Park Service — is captured on another video walking under and then alongside the freeway in the same direction as P-61.
Minutes later, P-61 was struck while crossing the 405 Freeway. NPS officials say the lion managed to cross five lanes of traffic, but was struck on the southbound side of the roadway.
Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said the videos show lions being lions.
“This is what male mountain lions instinctively do and it did not end up in P-61’s favor,” Sikich said in a statement. “The difference is that this is real-life mountain lion behavior playing out in an urban and fragmented landscape that is complicated by busy roads and development.”
Researchers said the video will give researchers insight into the animals’ behavior in the isolated environment.
P-61, who was about four years old, is the 19th mountain lion to be struck and killed on a roadway during the 17 years the NPS has been studying lions in the area. He was the eighth lion outfitted with a GPS collar to be killed on a roadway in that time.
The only other lion known to have successfully crossed the 405 Freeway is Griffith Park’s famed resident lion P-22. That lion was not being tracked with a GPS collar at the time, so little is known about where and when he made the trek.
According to the National Park Service, another lion named P-18 was fatally struck by a vehicle in the same area of freeway while attempting a crossing in 2011, and another lion that was not being tracked by researchers was struck and killed in 2009.
Freeways acting as physical barriers to migration have long been identified as threats to the continued survival of mountain lions in the area. At least one study has suggested that the lions will be extinct within 50 years due to the lack of breeding partners, leading to rampant inbreeding among the current population.
An $87 million wildlife crossing bridge — financed largely by private donors — is being planned for the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. Supporters hope to have it finished in 2023.