New Study Says Extinction Threat Potentially High For Southern California's Mountain Lions

Mar 21, 2019

They’ve literally become Southern California’s cool cats, grabbing media attention for photographs of them in the Hollywood Hills. But, concern is high about the future of mountain lions in Southern California, and new research says there’s no question they face the risk of extinction in our lifetimes.

Dr. Justin Dellinger is a Senior Environmental Scientist with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife. Dellinger is one of the authors of a just published studio which looks at the possibility of the extinction of the mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains and the Santa Ana Mountains.

He says if all goes well, the chance of extinction is low for the next 50 years. Seth Riley is Chief Wildlife Ecologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. He says if we start losing some of the mountain lions to other causes, like breeding males being accidentally struck and killed by vehicles the extinction threat could increase. Dellenger says the loss of some of the cats could radically change the extinction curve, to the point where they could be gone is a little over a decade.

The new report was published in the scientific journal “Ecological Applications.”

The study’s authors say three ingredients are necessary for a healthy mountain lion population: Large chunks of open space, connectivity between those open spaces so the mountain lions can move from area to area, and strategies to help the big cats coexist with humans.

The study looks at the concept of translocation: moving some of the mountain lions to other areas to help beef up the chance of survival. But, Dellenger says it really isn’t a great option, because some of the cats may just try to return to the original habitat.

The researchers say the better idea is establishing connectivity. In the Santa Monica Mountains, the 101 is a barrier between chunks of open space. In the Santa Ana Mountains, the 15 Freeway limits mountain lion movements.

They say it’s another reason to pursue, and test an idea that’s already under development, which is a wildlife overcrossing in the Agoura Hills area, not just for mountain lions, but all types of animals.