He survived the flames of Southern California's Woolsey Fire that ripped through his habitat in the Santa Monica Mountains, but a mountain lion known as P-64 has now been found dead of unknown causes, National Park Service officials said Friday.
P-64, who was dubbed the "Culvert Cat" for repeatedly using a culvert to cross the Ventura (101) Freeway in the Liberty Canyon area, was found dead Monday by a biologist tracking his movements using information from the lion's GPS collar.
NPS officials said a cause of death was unknown, but P-64's paws were "visibly burned."
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The NPS had been tracking 13 mountain lions that live in the Santa Monica Mountains as part of a study of the cat's activities and survivability in the development- and freeway-locked environment.
Of those 13 cats, 12 were known to have survived the Woolsey Fire. A year-old cat dubbed P-74 is believed to have died in the fire, although his remains haven't been found. Nearly 90 percent of the National Park Service land in the Santa Monica Mountains was consumed by the Woolsey Fire, according to the park service.
According to the NPS, P-64 was in the Simi Hills just above Oak Park when the Woolsey Fire erupted on Nov. 8. He covered a course of several miles through the hills over the next few days, eventually settling down in a remote area.
On Nov. 26, his GPS collar showed P-64 was in a part of the Simi Hills that escaped the blaze. His collar last transmitted a location on Nov. 28, and a biologist hiked to the area on Monday in hopes of tracking the cat, but his remains were found instead. Park Service officials said the cat appeared to have been dead "for a few days."
"It’s very unfortunate that he was seemingly so successful surviving in this fragmented landscape and then died in the aftermath of a devastating wildfire," said Jeff Sikich, a biologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. "It's of particular interest that he chose to travel back through a fresh burn area rather than retreat through urbanized areas to escape the fire."
The roughly 4-year-old lion had been tracked for the past nine months, since he was captured in February at the Santa Susana Field Lab.
During the first two weeks he was being monitored, P-64 crossed the 101 Freeway three times and the Ronald Reagan (118) Freeway twice, researchers said. During the full nine month of tracking, the cat crossed the 101 and 118 freeways more than 40 times, generally using the culvert beneath the 101.
"P-64 was a fascinating cat to study because he crossed our notoriously deadly freeways dozens of times," Sikich said.
In addition to the Simi Hills, P-64 was known to roam the Santa Monica Mountains and the southern Santa Susana Mountains.
He is believed to have fathered four kittens born in May, although the paternity hasn't yet been confirmed with DNA testing.