Deformities linked to inbreeding found in California cougars

LOS ANGELES (AP) — At least three mountain lions roaming Southern California have deformities linked to inbreeding, according to biologists who say the findings provide stark evidence of extremely low genetic diversity within the isolated population of big cats.

A cougar found in the Santa Monica Mountains near Los Angeles last March had a tail kinked like the letter “L” and only one descended testicle, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Since then, scientists have found two more lions with similar deformities.

“This is something we hoped to never see,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area. “We knew that genetic diversity was low here, but this is the first time we have actually seen physical evidence of it.”

Recent scientific studies suggest there’s an almost 1-in-4 chance that Southern California mountain lions could become extinct in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountain ranges within 50 years, according to the Times.

That’s partly because of how difficult it is to diversify the gene pool for the dozen adult lions who are hemmed in the Santa Monica Mountains by U.S. 100. In the Santa Ana Mountains, Interstate 15 limits the movement of a family of 20 cougars.