August 3, 2012
Mountain Lion Kittens Discovered To Be Product Of Inbreeding
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
In what should have been a happy occasion, the celebration of twin mountain lions´ birth, officials with the National Park Service were tempered by the discovery that two kittens -- a male and female -- are the second documented case of inbreeding at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
Some have blamed the protected area´s limited spaces as the cause of inbreeding. The Santa Monica park is the nation´s largest urban national park in the country; however its many roads along with its proximity to urban life could be confining to some individual cats.
“They were only in our care for an extremely brief time,” NPS official Kate Kuykendall told Los Angeles Magazine about the kittens. “Because the lions are hemmed in by the 101 and 405 freeways, many end up facing death because of conflict with another lion over the territory. That or they die as a result of trying to cross the freeway to get to new territory.”
Experts said over 90 percent of mountain lions stay in their natural habitats. However, male cats will tend to wander in search of their own territory and infrastructure development could force some mountain lions to roam into urban areas.
Confined spaces can also cause turf battles between older and younger males looking to establish dominance. One young male was shot and killed in May after he had wandered near Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade. Officials speculated that he may have been running from an older male.
Seth Riley, a wildlife expert with the National Park Service, was quick to point out the positive aspects of the birthday celebration. He also dismissed any notions of bringing in outside mountain lions to assuage inbreeding concerns.
"The fact that successful reproduction is occurring in the mountains indicates that we have high-quality habitat for mountains lions here," said Riley. "We're still hopeful that the Santa Monica Mountains can maintain enough connectivity. The population is as big as it's going to get. The problem is there's not enough space."
A similar inbreeding problem reared its ugly head in the panther population of Florida back in the 1990s. The less than 30 big cats living there at the time fell victim to inbreeding because of a lack of genetic diversity. Many of these animals were born sterile and some had kinked tails or heart defects. In 1995, biologists introduced eight female cougars to increase the area´s genetic diversity and expand the population, which eventually recovered.
Biologists said the inbred kittens were born in mid-June. While under the care on the NPS, they were fitted with tracking devices and had their DNA tested by UCLA.
Seven mountain lions are currently being tracked to determine the animals´ habits within the park and the kittens' father, known as P-12, has been tracked to a wildlife corridor near Liberty Canyon where he mated with females outside his family, according to park officials.