Cougar killed on California interstate had a stalker

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

Last week we brought up the story of the sad demise of P-61, the rather ingloriously named male cougar being followed by the National Park Service in the Santa Monica mountains of California. At the time we reported that P-61, a four-year-old, had made his way onto the 405 freeway, a 10-lane behemoth, where he was killed with a run-in with a motor vehicle near Sepulveda Pass.


P-61 in happier times. NPS photo.

At the time of the report, Park Service wildlife watchers were suspicious that P-61 had gone up on the freeway due to a territorial dispute with another male cougar. Now in-depth review of both wildlife cameras and freeway cams makes it appear that a turf-spat was indeed, the issue at hand.

A wildlife video camera spotted P-61 chased up a tree by another male mountain lion – this at 3:09 a.m. on September 7. Minutes pass with both cougars up the tree, but out of the camera’s view. At 3:35, it shows a cougar coming down out of the tree, closely followed by yet another cougar. A different camera, also showing a timestamp of 3:35 shows P-35 crossing a road at an I-405 underpass – he’s just a blur, and moving fast.

UncollaredlionlookingforP61_3_36

A minute later, that same camera records the other cougar walking under the same underpass, evidently trailing P-61. That’s the last image of either cougar, but in less than a half-hour, reports come in regarding the fatal vehicle/cougar accident. P-61 made it across at least five lanes of traffic, but took his last breath while trying to cross the southbound lanes. Watch the stalker in the above video clip by clicking on the image.

Wildlife officials are quick to lay no finger of blame on P-61’s pursuer. They say this is the way of life in the cougar world, where mountain lions lay claim to a patch of territory and fight to defend it. In this case, P-61 picked the wrong spot to move into, and human development simply played a part in his death.

P-61 was certainly not the first cougar to die in a road accident in the area. The Park Service study has recorded 19 road deaths in its 17-year period; he was the 8th cougar killed bearing a radio collar. The top two causes of death for cougars in this area are vehicle accidents and “intraspecific strife,” or conflicts within the same species. Sadly, P-61 ended up the victim of both.

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Larry H Lee

This cat and mouse game turned serious.