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Of Phil Helsel
A mountain lion known to have traversed the notoriously trafficked highways of the Los Angeles area died after surviving Woolsey Fire, the National Park Service said Friday.
The cause of the death of the big cat known as P-64, which had a mountain range in the hills of Simi, the mountains north of Santa Monica and the southern mountains of Santa Susana, was not determined, but its "legs were visibly burned ". The fire broke out on November 8 and destroyed 1,643 homes and other facilities.
Even three people died in the fire, which it was completely contained by November 21st. Their names have not been released and the identifications are pending, said the Los Angeles physician's office. The fire forced the evacuation of Malibu and other communities and burned nearly 97,000 acres, officials said.
"The P-64 has been a fascinating cat to study because it has crossed our notoriously deadly highways a dozen times," said Jeff Sikich, biologist for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
The mountain lion crossed the 101 highway several times, using a long and narrow drainage channel, earning the nickname "underground channel cat".
He crossed the freeways 101 and 118 a total of 41 times in the nine months in which the researchers tracked him down. While almost all 101 crossings were probable through the culvert, some 118 crossings were probably on the surface, although there is also a tunnel in the area, said Kate Kuykendall, a spokesperson for the NPS.
The remains of the male mountain lion of about 4 years were found Monday after Sikich climbed to the place of the last known GPS point recorded on a tracking device, the NPS said.
An autopsy, or an autopsy done on animals, will be performed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine a cause of death.
The P-64 was only the fifth mountain lion to be successfully documented through Highway 101, since the NPS began tracking down mountain lions in 2002, as reported by NBC Los Angeles in March. The animal was captured for the first time in February 2018 in the hills of Simi, said the park service.
The animal seemed to be dead for a few days when it was found, said the park service. After the fire broke out, the P-64 traveled to the Simi Hills for the next few days, covering several miles before "sinking into a remote area," the NPS said.
The mountain lion was located with a telemetry device on November 26, more than two weeks after the onset of the fire, in an uncultivated area of the Simi Hills and gave the researchers the hope that the P-64 was killed and survived the day after the blaze, said the park service.
Another mountain lion, a young male named P-74, is believed to have died in Woolsey Fire or its immediate consequences, said the park's service. Of the 13 mountain lions followed by researchers in the region, 11 were inside or around the perimeter of the fire and nine of them survived.
Perhaps the most famous of the mountain lions traced is the P-22, whose range includes the popular Griffith park in Los Angeles.
The population of mountain lions in the Los Angeles area is genetically isolated due to highways and human development, which raised concerns about their long-term viability, Kuykendall said.
A project to create a grassy bridge on the 101 freeway at Agoura Hills to help the nature pack is underway and could take place in 2022, and Woolsey Fire "emphasized the benefits of the crossing," he said.