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Troubling Pa Prints

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Read on if you're interested in mountain lions, pumas, California, genetic diversity, Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz Puma Project, wildlife underpass

Jan. 9, 2014—Researchers are finding signs of inbreeding in Southern California mountain lions whose natural territory has been encroached upon by urban growth, highlighting a problem that local environmentalists are seeking to head off with a new wildlife underpass.

Read about a planned mountain lion crossing beneath Highway 17.

A wildlife expert with the Santa Monica National Recreation Area reports that preliminary DNA tests of three mountain lion kittens born last month in the Santa Monica Mountains show they are the offspring of an adult male mountain lion and his daughter. The pair produced two other kittens in 2012. According to the Lompoc Record, a dozen mountain lions call the area home, but urban development has hemmed it in and Highway 101 has bisected it. Young males unable to leave the territory—such as the one that managed to cross eight lanes of traffic in October only to fall short of crossing a 10-foot wall and be killed by a car—are likely to be killed by older males. When they are able to, male pumas establish territories as large as 200 square miles, according to Chris Wilmers, director of the Santa Cruz Puma Project.

Seth Riley of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area says "their movements are totally circumscribed by the freeway." The recreation area, along with state parks, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and CalTrans want to build a wildlife underpass in the Agoura Hills. The price tag is estimated at $10 million.

In Santa Cruz County, a wildlife corridor beneath Highway 17 is inching toward reality. The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County expects soon to close a deal on a 10-acre parcel of land near Laurel Curve in hopes of building a wildlife underpass there.

Though genetic diversity among the Santa Cruz Mountains puma population is not yet an emergency, it's weighing heavy on the minds of experts, who hope for more wildlife underpasses allowing Santa Cruz Mountains males to reach mountains on the other side of the Santa Clara Valley. At a Land Trust-sponsored talk in December, Wilmers said of the local mountain lion population's genetic diversity, "Ours is already low, so it's important to connect to the Hamilton and Gabilan ranges."

Read about a mountain lion kitten studied by UCSC researchers.
Read about a PechaKucha presentation on mountain lions.

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