Researchers in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California, have been running a long-term study on the area’s mountain lion population since 2002. Which means that they carefully track new mountain lion births. Which means mountain lion kittens.
These kittens were born late in 2015, to a cat the researchers call P-19. After a mountain lion in the study gives birth, the researchers do a home visit, during which they examine the kittens. In this case, they implanted the kittens with tracking devices, and collected DNA samples, in order to find out the identity of their father.
Until recently, researchers were tracking one or two male mountain lions in the area. But towards the end of 2015, they found a third male mountain lion in the area, whom they call P-45. This small population of mountain lions is at risk of inbreeding—the mother of these cubs conceived two previous litters with her own father—and new genetic material would help its long-term success. Researchers are doing a paternity test to find out if these kittens are the offspring of this new addition to the area.
Mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains don’t often make it to maturity: they’re in danger from cars, other mountains lions and human influences, like rodenticide. In December, the park said that four of another mountain lion’s offspring had died. Two were killed by an older, male mountain lion, and two were killed by an unidentified predator. That may be the way of the world, but it’s hard not to hope these two strangely squeaky bundles of fur will survive.
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