For much of 2014, remote cameras in California’s Santa Monica Mountains silently recorded footage of wildlife prowling the chaparral-covered landscape. Lured in by the prospect of a deer dinner, many of the photos taken were of the area’s small mountain lion population, including one mother and her two cubs. Park officials recently released photos of the cougar family tearing into a deer carcass—and as cute as the cubs may seem, they do not mind baring their fangs when venison is on the menu.
The photos are of a cat, designated P-19 by park officials, and her two cubs, P-33 and P-32. Mountain lion cubs stay with their mother for about a year and a half. Since these photos were taken last March and the cubs were around 15 months old, it is likely that they have already left their mom to venture out on their own. A typical home range would be about 200 square miles for a male, and half that for a female. Mountain lions generally do not like to share territories, yet the region is becoming increasingly crowded, which is only made worse by highways cutting through the area. So far the National Park Service (NPS) has monitored more than 30 mountain lions in the mountains, a large interconnected family that has not been without its ups and downs.
Unlike African lions, cougars do not form prides and are not very social. Instead, mountain lions are often very violent with their siblings or young if they share a common territory. The saga of the Santa Monica mountain lions has more than its share of violent deaths, family drama, and even inbreeding. Penned in by the 405 and 101 freeways, the cougar family is becoming increasingly isolated and is exhibiting new behaviors that researchers call “bizarre.” Graphic designer Riah Buchanan, who has been following the progress of the “pride,” recently put up an interactive chart of the extended family on her website.
NPS scientists first documented the family’s patriarch, P-01, in 2002. Arguably the most destructive force in the pride, P-01 ended up killing his own mate, two of his offspring, and produced inbred cubs with another. Other deaths in the family were from untagged lions, cars, or simply cubs abandoned by their parents. Researchers suspect that P-01 may have recently died due to his age, but it is only a matter of time before another dominant cat takes over his territory.
P-19, his great-granddaughter, has so far produced five cubs. They must quickly leave the area or come into conflict with their mother, or any one of their other relatives.
Images courtesy National Park Service.