The National Parks Service was surprised to find and capture what may be a third male mountain lion, now known as P-45, in the Santa Monica Mountains on Nov. 21.
Because male mountain lions are extremely territorial, and the local population is hemmed in by freeways, researchers believe the region can only support one or two adult males.
"During the course of our study, we've only been aware of one or two adult males at any given time in the Santa Monica Mountains." said Jeff Sikich, biologist for the National Park Service. "We're very interested to learn whether there are now three adult males or whether P-45 successfully challenged one of his competitors."
The adult male P-27, estimated to be eight years old, spends most of his time on the eastern end of the mountains. The adult male P-12, also estimated to be eight years old, spent the majority of his time on the western end, the same area where P-45 was found. P-12's radio collar stopped working a few years ago making him harder to track, but he was photographed by a remote camera as recently as this March.
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P-45, estimated to be three or four years old, weighed 150 pounds at his capture, more than any other mountain lion during the study. The only exception is P-1, who also weighed 150 pounds.
The fate of P-12 is unclear. "The number one cause of death in our study is mountain lions killing other mountain lions," said NPS Spokesperson Kate Kuykendall.
Nine mountain lions have died since the study started in 2002, but the NPS isn't sure exactly how many are due to fights over territory, also known as intraspecific strife.
"We don't know of any instances where adult males live together," commented Kuykendall. The NPS believes that the Santa Monica Mountains can support no more than 10 to 15 mountain lions, and they are currently tracking 11 mountain lions in and around the region.
Since Sikich began tracking P-45 on Nov. 21, the mountain lion has spent most of his time on the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains. As a previously unknown animal, the NPS hopes that DNA tests will show how P-45 ended up in the isolated region, and how he may be related to the other animals in the study.
The National Park Service began studying mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains in 2002. The purpose of the study is to determine how they survive in a highly fragmented urban environment.