Daring freeway crossings made California puma famous. But that’s not what killed it, officials say

Southern California’s freeways are notoriously traffic-choked and hectic, making them dangerous for wild animals and human drivers alike.

That’s why a Southern California mountain lion known as P-55 made headlines last year when he became the first tracked puma to cross the busy 101 freeway unscathed twice, according to the National Parks Service. The young puma crossed the highway north before thinking better of it and heading south again, rangers said.

But P-55 was found dead recently at only 3-years-old — and it wasn’t a third daring highway crossing that killed him, according to rangers with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Though P-55’s remains were too decomposed to establish a firm cause of death, the mountain lion seemed healthy before his untimely demise — suggesting he may have been killed by accidentally ingesting rat poison, according to biologists. Pumas can die of rodenticide poisoning after chowing down on squirrels, woodrats or other prey that have already fallen victim to the poison, according to park rangers.

Death from fighting with a rival male puma is another possibility, but officials said it didn’t appear there had been a struggle where P-55’s body was found. Had the mountain lion’s tracking collar sent out a mortality signal like it was meant to, officials said they would know more about P-55’s death.

National Parks Service officials have closely studied about 50 pumas in the Los Angeles area for more than 10 years, yielding valuable data on how they live.

One of the most striking findings has been on their causes of death: As of 2015, there were 19 known puma deaths in the region, with most of them — more than 40 percent — the result of puma-on-puma fighting, officials said.

Becoming roadkill, starving or being abandoned were the next most common causes of death, followed by rat poisoning and poaching, officials said.

Mountain lion P-A, pictured here, was given a letter because it was not a part of the National Parks Service study. The mountain lion died on Malibu Canyon Road in 2004, rangers said. National Parks Service

P-55 most commonly roamed the northwest Santa Monica Mountains west of Las Virgenes Road and north of Mulholland, rangers said.

He was also an unwelcome guest in some Los Angeles area neighborhoods: As recently as February, he was caught on camera peeping into a Westlake Village house through a sliding glass door.

“He charged four times at the door,” said Nadine Young, who spotted the mountain lion outside her house, according to KABC. “It was terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.”

Young said she was worried about her children’s safety with a mountain lion on the loose, the TV station reports.

“I would like to see this animal relocated,” Young said, according to KABC. “I’ve heard from lots of other neighbors that he’s been killing animals, all of our neighbors’ animals. He’s definitely way more brazen in his behavior. He was not scared of us whatsoever.”

Other than Mumbai in India, Los Angeles is the only megacity in the world where people and big cats coexist within city boundaries, according to the National Park Service.

While 3-year-old P-55 died at a “relatively young” age for the generic mountain lion, rangers said his life lasted longer than most other males of his species in the heavily-populated area.

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