Lion Becomes Instant Legend For Crossing The 405 Freeway


LOS ANGELES, CA — A mountain lion survived a trek across the Santa Monica (405) Freeway in the Sepulveda Pass recently, leaving scientists and Angelenos alike to marvel at the death-defying feat. It’s the first time in 17 years of tracking LA’s big cats that a collared lion pulled off the stunt.

The lion, an instant legend, is known as P-61 , and he crossed the famous stretch of LA traffic in the early morning hours of July 19, according to the National Park Service. Officials know of two other mountain lions that died trying to cross that same stretch of freeway in recent years. The deaths highlight the risk to the Santa Monica Mountain lion population, which is hemmed in by the 405 and 101 freeways.

During the 17-year course of ongoing study, researchers have tracked numerous mountain lions traveling right up to the edge of the freeway and not crossing. P-61 managed to traverse the freeway from west to east between 2 and 4 a.m. It’s the same area where P-18 was fatally struck by a vehicle while attempting a crossing in 2011 and where another lion that was not being tracked by researchers was struck and killed in 2009.

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The lion, now a king of the urban jungle, joined one other legendary LA lion believed to have survived a 405 Freeway crossing: Griffith Park’s famed resident lion P-22. Little is known about P-22’s suspected crossing because he was not wearing a GPS collar at the time. However, DNA testing shows P-22 was born in the Santa Monica Mountains, so he must have crossed both the 405 and 101 Freeways to have reached Griffith Park.

“Although P-61 successfully crossed the 405, his feat is a reminder of how challenging Southern California’s road network is for mountain lions and other wildlife as well,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. “Others haven’t been so lucky.”

The issue of extensive development and 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.

P-61 now inhabits an area between the 405 and 101 Freeways, where researchers say at least one other lion resides. That lion is not outfitted with a GPS collar and has only been seen on surveillance footage in the area over the past five years.

“It will be interesting to see if P-61 stays in the area, whether he decides to challenge the uncollared lion or if he heads back to the other side of the freeway,” Sikich said. “Although it’s a relatively small area of habitat, it’s certainly larger than the Griffith Park area and does have a patchwork of natural areas.”

P-61 is believed to be about 4 years old. The lion was first captured and fitted with a GPS collar in October 2017.

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City News Service contributed to this report.

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