National Park Service scientists have verified a report of a mountain lion in the patchwork of open space between Bel Air and Los Feliz.
“We are treating this as a confirmed report,” said Kate Kuykendall, a spokeswoman for the National Park Service at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Reports of the sighting were first posted to social media by Chris Stills, a musician and son of famed ‘60s rocker Stephen Stills.
The black and white photograph posted by Stills is too washed out and grainy to be useful for discerning the animal’s gender or condition, but it was clear enough for biologists to identify it as a mountain lion and not a bobcat.
“You can tell from the tail and the body that that's clearly not a bobcat," said Seth Riley, a biologist for the National Park Service.
Kuykendall said that scientists were able to confer with Stills regarding the exact location where the photograph was taken, which allowed them to verify its authenticity.
The location is significant, because it lies east of the 405 Freeway. Scientists said the mountain lion mostly likely crossed the busy freeway – either by bridge or across lanes of traffic – because the population of cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains to the west is considered the only viable source.
Only one other mountain lion has ever been known to make the same journey. That cougar ended up in Griffith Park after crossing the 101 Freeway further east.
The recently discovered mountain lion isn’t one that National Park Service rangers have been tracking via a GPS collar. However, Kuykendall said it could be one of two juvenile cougars born a year to a year-and-a-half ago that recently split from their mother, a cougar that scientists have been tracking on the west side of the 405.
One of the juveniles was a female; the other was a male.
Kuykendall said that if the puma made it across the 405, it’s not inconceivable that it could also cross the 101, which would bring it into closer proximity to the Griffith Park lion known as P-22.
That could lead to conflicts, since the park isn’t big enough to fit the typical range of one mountain lion especially a male’s.
“Griffith Park is extremely small for one mountain lion. I would wager it’s not going to be big enough for two. That might not bode well for a smaller, younger male,” Kuykendall said.
If the lion is a female, that could potentially lead to cubs, as P-22 is nearing the age when it would normally mate.
Even that could be problematic, as male cougars further west in the Santa Monica Mountains have been known to kill females as well.