Campaign to save California’s mountain lions raises millions to build one of world’s biggest wildlife bridges

Campaign to save California’s mountain lions raises millions to build one of world’s biggest wildlife bridges

The mountain lions are under threat of extinction from inbreeding because the freeway restricts their ability to roam and broaden their gene pool.

The survival of California’s mountain lions is a step closer following renewed fundraising efforts to build one of the world’s biggest wildlife bridges in the state.

Spanning the 101 Freeway, it will provide safe passage for all wildlife but will also ensure the future of the mountain lions, which are under threat from inbreeding.

Fundraisers say they are in a race against time to get the money needed to commence work on the $87m (£63m) Liberty Canyon wildlife crossing by the autumn.

At 200ft (61m) long and 165ft (50m) wide, the bridge would be the largest of its kind in the world. It will be planted with trees and strewn with rocks to create a seamless link for wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains south of the road and the Santa Susana Mountains to the north.

Built from reinforced steel and concrete, it will also have fences 10ft (3m) high to ensure animals such as mountain lions (also known as cougars), bobcats, deer and coyote can safely traverse the 10-lane freeway, which is used by 300,000 cars a day.

The impetus to build the bridge has come from the discovery the mountain lion population is dwindling because of inbreeding. Recent studies predict extinction probability of up to 28 per cent in the next 50 years thanks to low genetic diversity – partly because the 101 Freeway is an obstacle to gene flow.

Brad Shaffer, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that because it had become a closed population “every generation is getting more inbred”. This in turn has a consequence for all wildlife further down the food chain.

Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California, has agreed to give $7m (£5.1m) and Beth Pratt, from the National Wildlife Federation’s Save LA Cougars campaign, told the Los Angeles Times that another $27m (£20m) is needed to break ground on time this autumn.

The campaign hopes the project, which will be a public-private partnership, will be completed by 2025.

This article by Sally Guyoncourt was first published by iNews on 8 July 2021. Lead Image: Campaign gathers pace to build wildlife bridge over Californian Freeway to ensure Mountain Lions survive. (Photo: Kathleen Reeder Wildlife Photographer/Getty).

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