Two new mountain lion kittens, named P-46 and P-47, were recently discovered in the Santa Monica Mountains, providing both a glimmer of hope for the National Park Service’s efforts to continue the species’ growth–but also confusion as to who the father is.
“We continue to see successful reproduction, which indicates that the quality of the natural habitat is high for such a relatively urbanized area,” Jeff Sikich, a biologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, reportedly said in a statement. According to the Los Angeles Times, this is the ninth litter of kittens marked by park service biologists at a Santa Monica Mountains den site.
DNA testing is reportedly underway to determine whether the new litter was fathered by P-12, a male lion that has twice inbreeded with his daughter P-19 in the past. Biologists are hopeful that the kittens are born from a newly discovered male known as P-45, as inbreeding has become problematic for lions in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Sikh reportedly said the lions in the Santa Monica den “have the lowest genetic diversity ever recorded of any mountain lion population besides the Florida panther that went nearly extinct.” Inbreeding leads to low genetic diversity and could also result in something known homozygosity, in which the offspring could be affected by recessive or weaker traits that could ultimately affect their ability to survive and reproduce.
Two of the kittens from P-19’s last litter of three have reportedly died. There are only about a dozen mountain lions left in the Santa Monica Mountains, according to Scientific American.
Sikich said the kittens face “many challenges ahead of them,” including the fact that male mountain lions often kill offspring from other litters in an attempt to destroy genetic rivalry.