CASTAIC, California — A young mountain lion that crossed roads and freeways on a 50-mile journey to reach a new home north of Los Angeles has died under the wheels of a car, authorities said Thursday.
The cougar, which was tagged and known to researchers as P-32, died Monday on Interstate 5 near Castaic, according to the National Park Service.
The puma, a juvenile believed to be about 21 months old, crossed from the Santa Monica Mountains into Los Padres National Forest in April and had been "zig-zagging" through the area ever since, park service spokeswoman Kate Kuykendall said.
The Santa Monica Mountains are ringed by densely populated urban areas that make it difficult for mountain lions — which need ranges of 75 to 200 square miles for hunting and breeding — to roam. The males are extremely territorial.
Dispersal of the lions is critical for maintaining the long-term genetic health of the population.
P-32 probably was forced out of his birthplace by a more dominant male, and tracking showed a male called P-38 appeared to be following him on part of his journey, according to the park service.
P-32 initially crossed eight-lane U.S. 101, State Routes 23, 118 and 126 before settling into a natural area of the Simi Hills not far from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
P-32's initial crossing had been a hopeful event. An ongoing study of local pumas that began in 2002 found that most of the young males died prematurely, either from being struck by vehicles or after a fight with a dominant adult male.
A dozen mountain lions have been found dead on roads since the study began. Only three mountain lions have been known to have successfully crossed U.S. 101, Kuykendall said.
One of those was P-32.
"This case illustrates the challenges that mountain lions in this region face, particularly males," said Seth Riley, a wildlife ecologist with Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
A survivor, P-22, lives in a territory believed to span only about 8 square miles in Griffith Park, a wilderness area in the middle of Los Angeles. He became a celebrity when he was handsomely photographed at night with the lighted Hollywood sign in the background.
"His dispersal is not considered successful because he is now isolated in a small patch of habitat with no reproduction opportunities," the park service said in a statement.