Image: National Park Service
“These lions’ kinked tails are a genetic cry for help, telling us we must make it easier for them to move around and find mates,” declared Tiffany Yap, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, in the press release. “More wildlife crossings are part of it, but we need to stop sprawl developments that cut these beautiful cats off from each other.”
Indeed, these big cats are hemmed in by dangerous highways, making it difficult for them to move about and replenish their gene pool. A potential solution is in the works, however, in the form of a wildlife overpass above the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. This overpass, at an estimated cost of $60 million, is currently being funded by private and corporate donors, including contributions from Boeing and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, reports the LA Times. Construction could begin in late 2021 if funding stays on course. An overpass at this spot is ideal, as natural habitats are found on both sides of the freeway; the National Park Service says the bridge would link populations south of the 101 Freeway to natural areas north of the Simi Hills, the Santa Susana Mountains, and, importantly, the Los Padres National Forest.
Recently, panthers living in Florida experienced a similar problem with inbreeding (including the kinked tails and cryptorchidism), which conservationists remedied by importing eight female mountain lions from Texas. The project worked, raising the population to an estimated 200 individuals, up from around two dozen. Conservationists in southern California don’t intend to import any new animals, as they hope the future overpass will connect the struggling cougar group with the much larger population of mountain lions living in the Los Padres National Forest.
As it stands, mountain lions are not listed as an endangered species in California. This is under review, however, with the California Fish and Game Commission expected to make a decision on the matter next summer, at which time the animals could be protected under the state’s Endangered Species Act, reports the LA Times. Such a move would place limits on highway construction and real estate.
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