The King of the Verdugos has fallen. Today the Santa Monica National Park Service confirmed that P-41, the only male mountain lion in the Verdugo Mountain Range in California, died recently of unknown causes. The loss of this critically important individual lion was likely due to health complications or injuries related to September's Verdugo Fire, the largest fire in LA history. He was approximately ten years old.
Photo Credit: Johanna Turner - cougarmagic.com
Originally captured and collared in an effort to study his species' dispersal patterns in highly fragmented habitats, P-41 represented one of the few lions residing in the Verdugo Mountains, which connect the larger Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountain ranges. With his loss just one identified lion remains in the Verdugos, an elusive female only known through trail camera footage.
Photo Credit: NPS
P-41 was a critical source of genetic diversity for mountain lion populations in southern California, which reside in highly fragmented habitat crisscrossed by highways and urban zones. His ability to survive in such a small area bordered by development was a notable point of interest for carnivore biologists in the state.
P-41 was discovered on December 9, 2010 via remote sensing cameras deployed by citizen scientist Johanna Turner, who contacted Jeff Sikich and Dr. Seth Riley at the National Park Service (NPS). Since being captured and outfitted with a GPS collar in 2015, P-41 has provided NPS researchers insight on his movements and land use habits. Additionally, Turner has collected years' worth of camera footage since P-41's capture, allowing the rest of the world a peek into the lives of these elusive urban carnivores.
Map: P-41 lived in a 19 square mile habitat surrounded by freeways and urbanization. To put the size of his home range into perspective, male lions can have territories that range from 150-250 square miles.
The Mountain Lion Foundation contributed to research conducted by Korinna Domingo in the Verdugo Mountains over the year leading up to the fire. The study sought to identify the species of mammals that live in this island of green space using non-invasive techniques such as remote sensing cameras, as little is known about the density of carnivores and their land use in frequently-used areas of the Verdugo Mountains. Another aim was to assess what types of predators were active in these areas and gather information on their movements in relation to time of day, temperature, moon phase, habitat, and overlap with areas frequented by humans. Data obtained in this study can aid in wildlife management in order to limit negative interactions between humans and wild animals.
Photo: Adrine Ovasapyan, Recreation Coordinator; Brian Pucio of the Stough Canyon Nature Center; Korinna Domingo; Johanna Turner.
Denis Callet has been researching P-41 and the female Verdugo lion through remote sensing trail cameras for years and is one of very few researchers in the world who have captured a photograph of two lions mating. Callet and Johanna Turner, who met in 2012, have each spotted two sets of cubs on their remote sensing cameras, watching a litter of kittens grow to around one year of age. Male lions matching that age were struck on the freeway and killed -- one on the 210 at La Tuna and the other at the 2 near the Sports Complex. It is possible that these two males were dispersing to find their own home range.
The female lion and P-41 copulating. You can follow more of Denis' work on his facebook page.
"The most recent litter was only seen once when they were very young [in the winter of 2016], then never again. The female lion appeared to have a wound on her nose soon afterwards, which has left a visible scar," says Turner. Though the cubs' current fate is unknown, male lions have been observed killing their own cubs and fighting with females, behavior that becomes increasingly common in small, fragmented areas like the Verdugos.
Back in 2011 the "Burbank kittens" were rescued from underneath a car on a residential block adjacent to the Verdugos, and now live at Animazonia. DNA testing is inconclusive on whether or not they were fathered by P-41, so we're unsure if any of his genetic material lives on in or around the Verdugos.
Photo Credit: Johanna Turner - cougarmagic.com
This is the very first litter ever recorded, which was within two weeks of the "Burbank kittens" being found.
Photo Credit: Denis Callet
Researchers suspect that it is likely that another male will penetrate the boundaries of the busy 210 freeway and take up residence in P-41's former range.
"It's a feat that seems too risky to take on, but we wouldn't put anything past these lions," says Korinna Domingo. But where exactly do these animals cross these freeways and highways? The Mountain Lion Foundation's current road ecology project, led by Domingo and Lisa Wooden, is working to identify which culverts (or drainage pipes) are actively being used by wildlife to travel between the San Gabriel Mountains Range and Verdugo Mountains.
We don't know where the King of the Verdugos was born or where he came from, but P-41 lived as Burbank's mascot and ambassador for southern California's struggling wildlife. His photographs and videos captured the imaginations of the public, and his GPS collar gave us valuable insight to the behavior and resilience of mountain lions. He was a father, watcher of trails, and keeper of the Verdugos. Long live the King.