Four mountain lion kittens have been discovered in a remote area of the Santa Monica Mountains, National Park Service officials announced Tuesday, but the new cats are the apparent result of inbreeding that plagues the lion population in their geographically isolated habitat.
The kittens — dubbed P-70, P-71, P-72 and P-73 — thus far appear to be in good health. Their mother was identified as a lion known as P-19, who apparently mated with her own roughly 3-year-old grandson, P-56, to produce the litter, officials said.
“We have documented multiple cases of inbreeding during the course of our study,” Jeff Sikich, biologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said in a statement. “The 101 Freeway is a major barrier to movement, which restricts the ability of mountain lions to come into and go out of the area, and unfortunately leads to a lack of breeding options.”
For P-19, the kittens are her fourth litter. She previously gave birth to seven known kittens, four of which have since died and only one of which is confirmed to still be living.
A study released two years ago estimated that the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains is facing possible extinction due to the lack of genetic diversity. Planning is under way on construction of a wildlife crossing over the Ventura (101) Freeway in the Liberty Canyon area in hopes of making it easier for cats to cross the freeway, and thus widening the breeding pool.