LOS ANGELES — A young mountain lion likely searching one of the country's largest cities for its own leafy expanse to call home was struck and killed by a vehicle as it wandered across a busy Los Angeles freeway.
Authorities say a the 15-month-old cat was struck Tuesday morning on Interstate 405 in the Sepulveda Pass, where thousands of cars daily rush through mountains where the animals used to roam unobstructed.
"They're like wandering teenagers trying to assert themselves and trying to find a place to live," said Kevin Brennan, a state wildlife biologist. "There's finite habitat and there's nowhere for them to go."
At least one mountain lion is killed crossing a freeway every year in Southern California, particularly in the Riverside and San Diego County area, Brennan said.
Two mountain lions have been killed in the past few years at the site of Tuesday's accident.
The young mountain lion was among 21 cats studied for the past decade by the National Park Service to get a better understanding of how the animals navigate open space in urban Southern California.
Officials say they have either lost contact with most of the mountain lions or they have died.
The cat, known as P-18, was born in the Santa Monica Mountains in May 2010 and was fitted with a tracking collar when it was three weeks old.
The animal eventually left its mother's home range and started moving east from Malibu Creek State Park, likely searching for its own territory, which cats typically do when they're a year and a half old.
The straw-colored cats feed on mule deer, coyotes and raccoons. Males can be as long as 9 feet and weigh 220 pounds. Both sexes need a lot of space. Female lions need about 40-square-mile territories and males need as many as 200 square miles.
The California Department of Transportation is looking into installing fencing near the site of the accident to herd wildlife toward safer crossings as well as widening a bridge to include a protected area for wildlife to cross.
Still, it's not clear if it would've helped the young mountain lion that was struck about a mile south.
"I would've hoped it would've saved his life," said Ron Kosinski, deputy for environmental planning for Caltrans.