Disney animators created Simba, Mufasa, Nala, and Scar at a Burbank studio just north of Griffith Park, eastern outpost of the Santa Monica Mountains BioBlitz. But the Lion King stars aren’t the only big cats to prowl these hills: The Santa Monica Mountains are home to mountain lions (also known as pumas) and bobcats.
Inventory teams routinely find paw prints and scat, but the animals themselves prove elusive. Ingenuity and technology–trip cameras rigged to photograph prowling mammals as they pass, radio collars and tiny GPS transmitters–help people keep tabs on rare and stealthy felines, says National Park Service biologist Seth Riley.
Major highways divide Santa Monica’s few mountain lions from larger populations in neighboring public lands. Scientists are keen to understand how they’re coping with this challenge, to locate lion kills, to measure their home ranges (“Puma 1,” the park’s dominant male, routinely traverses the entire breadth of the National Recreation Area), and to observe and tag newborn kittens.
Seth takes teams out night and day to track cats and collect data. How often does he see the animals? “Almost never.”