A male mountain lion who successfully crossed a 10-lane freeway in Los Angeles two months ago was struck and killed Saturday on the same section of the freeway.
The 4-year-old big cat known as P-61 was hit around 4 a.m. in the Sepulveda Pass section of Interstate 405, National Park Service Ranger Ana Beatriz said on a Facebook post .
In July, P-61 became the first big cat documented to cross the massive freeway during the NPS’ 17-year study of mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains.
The most famous big cat to cross the 405 is P-22. P-22 was not wearing a GPS collar at the time, so little is known about his journey.
In the same area where P-61 crossed, a mountain lion dubbed P-18 was hit and killed by a vehicle in 2011. A lion not tracked by scientists was killed along that stretch in 2009.
Researchers believe a negative encounter with an uncollared male mountain lion could have caused P-61 to cross the freeway again to move back west, Beatriz said.
Scientists tracking the mountain lions have found that roadways are largely trapping animals in the Santa Monica Mountains, which run along the Malibu coast and across the middle of Los Angeles to Griffith Park, where P-22 settled.
The result of that isolation, they say, is imminent genetic collapse for mountain lions. Habitat loss has driven the populations to inbreeding that could lead to extinction within 15 years unless the big cats regularly connect with other populations to increase their diversity.
Hoping to fend off their extinction, transportation officials and conservationists will build a mostly privately funded wildlife crossing over U.S. 101 in Agoura Hills, giving mountain lions and other wild animals a safe route to open space and better access to food and potential mates.
The $87 million span along U.S. 101 will only be the second animal overpass in a state where tunnels are more common. Officials say it will be the first of its kind near a major metropolis and the largest in the world, stretching 200 feet (61 meters) above 10 lanes of busy highway and a feeder road just 35 miles (56 kilometers) northwest of downtown LA.
California transportation officials say the bridge is on track for groundbreaking within two years and completion by 2023.