Believe it or not, these three mountain lions live near Los Angeles. They’re residents of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
These vivid images were captured by a camera trap in February and released in early March. They are unusual for catching three of the cats together, because adult mountain lions prefer to be alone. According to the National Park Service, fully grown mountain lions need a lot of space: Males typically range over about 200 square miles, and females, 75 square miles.
The reason these mountain lions are hanging out is that they’re a family. Two of them are siblings, a female called P-33 and a male called P-32. At 15 months old, they’re still kittens by mountain lion standards. The third is their mom, P-19.
The National Park Service has been monitoring this area’s mountain lion population for more than a decade, learning how the animals are managing to survive in such a heavily urbanized region. The mountain lions of the Santa Monica Mountains have become more hemmed in by freeways and have been unable to meet and mate with cats from other areas. Their genetic health is suffering as a result.
The mountain lion’s traditional range in California takes up about half the state, according to biologists, who estimate their population at 4,000 to 6,000 animals. But California’s human population growth is putting pressure on mountain lions by encroaching on and fragmenting their habitat. Seven of the 10 most densely populated urbanized areas in the United States are in California, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
California does not consider mountain lions threatened or endangered but classifies them as a “specially protected species,” which means they cannot be hunted.