Environment & Science

Website outlines Santa Monica mountain lions' tragic family tree

A screenshot from www.lionslivehere.com lays out the Santa Monica mountain lions' family tree.
A screenshot from www.lionslivehere.com lays out the Santa Monica mountain lions' family tree.
Screenshot from lionslivehere.com

Don't let the website's neon colors fool you, the saga of the Santa Monica pride rivals "Game of Thrones" in darkness.

The site called "Lions Live Here" explores the incestuous, tragic family tree that connects the mountain lions living just west of the 405 Freeway. The pride has been penned in by freeways and an encroaching population of humans, leading to their near complete isolation and some strange behavior. 

The website displays the whole cast of characters, complete with head shots of most family members. Tabs at the top let you toggle on and off who died, who mated, who killed who, and who inbred with which member of the family. Startling stuff.

The site is the brainchild of graphic designer Riah Buchanan, who said she had to bone up both on the background of the pride, and on the finer points of web development, to produce it. 

"I wanted to make something almost, at first, for myself, just to see who begat who and what the relationships were between the lions," she said.  

Buchanan said she's been fascinated with the idea that wild mountain lions roam the same terrain that we do, and found herself considering them when she was out on hikes. 

"I'm always just thinking about them when I'm out in the woods. Just wondering what they're doing," she said. "I think it pretty magical that they're out there and that we know where they are — even though we never really see them." 

The thought that lions and bears tread the same ground as day-hikers is something she felt was unique to L.A., and the parks that surround it.

 "It's special, in terms of cities. I never felt that way in New York," she said. "I love New York, but there's not lions roaming around Central Park."

The site launched quietly a couple weeks ago, but was discovered over the weekend by Curbed LA. Buchanan said she spent a few months teaching herself the basics of html and javascript and dig up information on the cougars before it published. 

L.A.'s fascination with the mountain lion family's grisly drama can be downright Kardashianesque. When P22, the young prince of the Santa Monica pride crossed two highways to escape into Griffith Park, the media covered the story as if it were stalking a celebrity. One National Geographic cameraman spent a full year trying to get a shot of the mysterious cougar. 

On the "Lions Live Here" site, you can scroll up to see  P-22 make his epic trek across the 405 and 101 freeways. He lands in the park, on a grass bed of related links to news coverage of his escape and to information on keeping his habitat healthy. 

But Buchanan said she became intrigued by the family's story much earlier: When she heard about the mountain line patriarch, P1, killing his mate, dubbed P2. 

"When I read more about it, it sounded like P2 had known that P1 had this murderous nature," she said, adding that she knew she was bringing her own anthropomorphic agenda to the attack. But who can help it? 

"They had tracked her [P2], and she had been looking out over the freeway — before she'd met her end," Buchanan said. "I don't know, I guess I was just imagining her looking out, thinking about how much she wanted to leave the mountain."

The thought pushed her to want to advocate for the construction of a land bridge, now under consideration, that could help the remaining animals get 'off the island'. That, she said, is the website's main purpose.

"It is a very dark [story]," she said. " They're all trapped over there. Trapped on the Westside, like, forever."

This story has been updated.