A female mountain lion being tracked by the National Park Service (NPS) perished earlier this month as she attempted to cross the 118 Freeway in Los Angeles. The five-year-old lion, P-39, was the mother of three kittens. Researchers recovered P-39’s GPS tracking collar, but not her remains.

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NPS scientists think P-39 was struck by a vehicle on December 3. Crossing freeways wasn’t one of her main activities; she actually traversed the 118 for the very first time only days before she died. Researchers are not sure if her approximately six-month-old kittens – P-50, P-51, and P-52 – were crossing with her at the time. Even if they weren’t, bereft of their mother at such a young age, they are unlikely to survive.

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National Park Service biologist Jeff Sikich said in a statement, “Navigating our complex road network is a major challenge for mountain lions in this region. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the kittens have developed the hunting skills to survive without their mom.”

Researchers were suspicious when P-39’s GPS collar stopped functioning around the time she was killed. They knew she’d been in the area of the collision before her untimely death. Sikich discovered her collar days later on the center divider of the freeway, but P-39 herself was never found. Sikich said witnesses who saw P-39 did not say she was wearing a collar. It will be difficult for NPS to determine the kittens’ fate, as they were not wearing GPS collars.

The devastating news is a blow to those studying big cats in Los Angeles; the California city and Mumbai are the only megacities in the world home to big cats residing in city limits, according to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. P-39 was the first mountain lion to receive a GPS collar, providing information on lion behavior and ecology to NPS. Her death is the 13th case since 2002 of a mountain lion killed in NPS’ study area.

Via The Los Angeles Times

Images via National Park Service on Flickr (1,2)