New Scientist | LA’s Endangered Pumas to be Saved by a $60m Bridge Over Highway

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New Scientist | LA’s Endangered Pumas to be Saved by a $60m Bridge Over Highway

New Scientist | LA’s Endangered Pumas to be Saved by a $60m Bridge Over Highway

Photo Credit: National Park Service

Hollywood would be hard-pressed to conjure up such a misunderstood beast.

There are about a dozen pumas (Puma concolor) living in the Santa Monica mountain range, which bisects Los Angeles.

These big cats are stuck on an island of habitat, trapped on all sides by freeways on which hundreds of thousands of cars roar past every day. But this may be about to change with an ambitious plan to build a $60 million wildlife crossing.

A dozen pumas, which are also known as mountain lions or cougars, have been killed while attempting crossings since 2002. Only one born in the Santa Monica mountains has been successful in leaving the area.

Dubbed P-22, that young male is now stuck living under the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park, an oasis of 4300 acres of chaparral habitat in the middle of the city. But although P-22 has prey, he’s alone, with scant chance of finding a mate.

Isolation means increased competition for territory and partners. It also means rampant inbreeding and, ultimately, extinction. This subpopulation has among the lowest genetic diversity of any felid in the western US.

An adult male puma’s home range can extend over about 500 square kilometres, and the Santa Monica mountains cover 700 square kilometres. With southern Californians frequently building homes in canyons abutting puma habitat, interspecies conflict has led to lions hiding in crawl spaces under homes, and sightings on trails.

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