In need of space

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ECO WATCH - By Martha Groves

From an ur­ban puma’s per­spec­tive, the news of late from greater Los An­ge­les has been mixed. on the pos­i­tive front, a small pop­u­la­tion of pu­mas is sur­viv­ing in the rel­a­tively com­pact con­fines of the Santa mon­ica moun­tains in Cal­i­for­nia, where deer are plen­ti­ful and the moun­tain lions have found mates and re­pro­duced. one healthy male puma has made Grif­fith Park, in the range’s eastern reaches, his do­main and dinette for nearly two years.

on the flip side, a puma (also called cougar) that would have brought new ge­netic ma­te­rial man­aged to cross the 101 Free­way last oc­to­ber but en­coun­tered a 3m re­tain­ing wall and was struck and killed by a mo­torist. In the lat­est sober­ing rev­e­la­tion, the Na­tional Park Ser­vice said that three moun­tain lion kit­tens born in the Santa mon­ica moun­tains re­cently ap­pear to be the re­sult of in­breed­ing.

Taken to­gether, sci­en­tists say, these de­vel­op­ments un­der­score the need for eas­ing the pas­sage of wildlife be­tween open lands now bi­sected by the 101 in Agoura Hills, about 48km north-west of down- town Los An­ge­les.

moun­tain lions in the Santa mon­i­cas are trapped on an is­land of habi­tat, con­strained by free­ways, the Pa­cific ocean and the agri­cul­tural fields of oxnard. The in­breed­ing is fur­ther ev­i­dence that male lions need more room to roam to ex­pand their mat­ing op­tions, ex­perts say.

“This is the third of six kit­ten lit­ters we’ve stud­ied where we’ve doc­u­mented first-or­der in­breed­ing, in which a fa­ther mates with his off­spring,” said Seth ri­ley, an ur­ban wildlife ex­pert at the Santa mon­ica moun­tains Na­tional re­cre­ation Area, a unit of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice. ri­ley and his team have stud­ied moun­tain lions in the area for more than a decade.

Pre­lim­i­nary pa­ter­nity re­sults from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Los An­ge­les’ robert Wayne Lab in­di­cate that Puma 12, known as P-12, is the fa­ther of the three new kit­tens and the fa­ther of their mother, P-19. The kit­tens – one male and two fe­males known as P-32, P-33 and P-34 – were born in the mal­ibu Springs area; bi­ol­o­gists have at­tached ear tags to the young­sters. over mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions, in­breed­ing leads to a loss of ge­netic di­ver­sity and can re­sult in low sperm counts, heart prob­lems and lower resistance to dis­ease.

ri­ley’s stud­ies have shown that the top causes of death among the Santa mon­ica moun­tains’ puma pop­u­la­tion are con­flicts with other lions, ex­po­sure to rat poi­sons and en­coun­ters with mov­ing ve­hi­cles.

The Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has twice sought fed­eral fund­ing for a US$10mil (rm32mil) tun­nel cross­ing near the Lib­erty Canyon road exit. The area is part of a crit­i­cal wildlife cor­ri­dor that con­nects the Santa Su­sana moun­tains and Simi Hills to the Santa mon­ica moun­tains.

ri­ley and oth­ers work­ing with the depart­ment re­cently pro­posed what they con­sider a su­pe­rior op­tion: a land­scaped cross­ing over the free­way. Such over­passes have been suc­cess­ful in Canada and Europe and are start­ing to be used in the Western United States.

“I’m ar­gu­ing pretty ag­gres­sively for an over­pass,” said Joseph T. Ed­mis­ton, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Santa mon­ica moun­tains Con­ser­vancy, which owns much of the land near the pro­posed cross­ing. “It would be more invit­ing for the an­i­mals.”

A ro­bust wildlife cross­ing “is the key to ge­netic health in the Santa mon­ica moun­tains,” said Clark Stevens, ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of the re­source Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict of the Santa mon­ica moun­tains. As high a pri­or­ity as it is, Stevens said, “it will take a lot of sep­a­rate money cob­bled to­gether” by a pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship to build. — Los An­ge­les Times/mcClatchy Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices

hemmed in: While moun­tain lion pop­u­la­tions are healthy across Cal­i­for­nia, the sit­u­a­tion is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly dire for the iso­lated pop­u­la­tion in the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains. The es­ti­mated 10 cats in this moun­tain range are hemmed in by free­ways and other de­vel­op­ment. Without a way to link to the greater pop­u­la­tion, they may go ex­tinct. — aP

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