LOS ANGELES - A Southern California mountain lion that crossed freeways dozens of times, evading potentially deadly traffic, has died after burning its paws during a wildfire, officials said on Friday.
The 4-year-old mountain lion, which biologists had tracked with a GPS collar and had named P-64, was roaming in the Simi Hills, northwest of Los Angeles, when the fire broke out nearby, said Jeff Sikich, a biologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. It apparently crossed an area burned by the Woolsey Fire, which erupted on Nov. 8 and scorched 97,000 acres (39,000 hectares) before being fully contained nearly two weeks later.
Biologists later followed P-64’s movements over several miles before it hunkered down. On Dec. 3, Sikich discovered P-64’s remains, paws burned, near the cat’s last known GPS location.
The predator’s exact cause of death was not known. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was set to conduct a necropsy.
The mountain lion could have escaped the fire’s path by venturing into the streets of Oak Park, a suburb between Los Angeles and Thousand Oaks, but instead P-64 stepped into a fresh burn area in its wildland habitat, officials said.
Mountain lions rarely venture into urban areas, and P-64’s actions demonstrate they prefer to stay clear of populated areas, even in the midst of a disaster, National Park Service spokeswoman Kate Kuykendall said by phone.
P-64 may have avoided homes, but was famous for braving traffic and was nicknamed the “Culvert Cat.”
It was the only big cat biologists had observed consistently crossing the 101 Freeway to escape and re-enter the Santa Monica Mountains, Kuykendall said. It had traversed the 101 Freeway 14 times and crossed the 118 Freeway further north 27 times.
P-64 is believed to have fathered four cubs born in May, the National Park Service said in a statement. Biologists have not been able to confirm whether the cubs or their mother survived the fire.
Since 2002, biologists have been tracking a number of mountain lions, including P-64, to study how they survive in a natural environment where human habitats are encroaching.
“It’s very unfortunate that he was seemingly so successful surviving in this fragmented landscape and then died in the aftermath of a devastating wildfire,” Sikich said.