But there’s more to the story of this kitten. Researchers have named her P-54. She’s no more than a few months old. And – this is the sad part – it’s likely that she’s the product of inbreeding.
The kitten was born amidst the urban sprawl of Southern California in Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, the largest urban national park in the country. The recreation area is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, agricultural fields and greater Los Angeles.
“Think of it like an island,” says Jeff Sikich, a biologist for the National Park Service, who’s been tracking the park’s mountain lions in its steep chaparral-covered canyons for more than a decade. “[The mountain lions] are pretty much hemmed in by freeways and development on all sides.”
As a result, few cats – or other wildlife, for that matter – are able to come and go, so adult mountain lions resort to inbreeding. Researchers know that the kitten’s mother is P-23. And they suspect the father is P-23’s half-brother, P-30. They’re waiting for genetic testing to confirm their suspicions.
Sikich says it’s unlikely that P-30 or other mountain lions know they’re inbreeding. Male mountain lions don’t stick around to raise their kids. But the results of inbreeding could be devastating to the population’s future.
Limited genetic diversity can lead to mutations and abnormalities. Sikich points to the Florida panther, a population that almost went extinct from inbreeding. Researchers started to find genetic defects in the animals – holes in the heart, kinked tails and low sperm counts – before wildlife managers introduced outside panthers into the population to mix things up.