Mountain lion kittens show evidence of inbreeding
The good news from Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is the recent discovery of two mountain lion kittens in a den east of Circle X Ranch in Malibu. For a species that is struggling to maintain healthy numbers, it's an encouraging sign.
Less positive is the announcement Thursday from park biologists that testing revealed that the male and female kittens are the second documented occurrence of first-order inbreeding, when a father lion mates with his female offspring.
The kittens, named Puma 23 and 24, or P-23 and P-24, were born in mid-June, after their mother, P-19, was observed displaying denning behavior. Park teams discovered the den and took DNA samples, which were sent to UCLA. Testing there proved the kittens' father is P-12, also the father of P-19.
The kittens' lineage is important to the survival of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, which provide excellent habitat but also does not allow the park's big cats to travel and breed with other mountain lion groups, leaving them genetically stranded.
"Unfortunately, the amount of habitat is not sufficient to support a viable population long-term, and when new animals like these are born, especially young males, they run into freeways and development when they try to disperse," said Dr. Seth Riley, a wildlife expert with the National Park Service.
-- Julie Cart
Photo: One of the mountain lion kittens born in mid-June is seen at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Credit: National Park Service