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Hollywood’s famous lion gets world’s biggest wildlife bridge over highway to help fight species extinction

Christopher Weber, August 21, 2019 6:45PM AP

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Mountain lion P-22, photographed in the Griffith Park near downtown Los Angeles, US in 2014. Picture: US National Park Service/AP media_cameraMountain lion P-22, photographed in the Griffith Park near downtown Los Angeles, US in 2014. Picture: US National Park Service/AP

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Mountain lion P-22 lives alone in a big city.

He is famous for travelling across two massive freeways and making his home in a Los Angeles park near the Hollywood sign in California, US.

The lonesome big cat has become a symbol of the shrinking genetic diversity* of wild animals that must remain in ever smaller habitats within sprawling cities, or risk becoming roadkill.

But P-22 is about to get the world’s largest wildlife bridge so he can roam more widely and safely.

US transport officials and conservationists* will build the $128 million wildlife crossing over a major freeway, hoping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions — also called cougars — and other species.

This undated artist's rendering provided by the Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains shows a planned wildlife crossing over U.S. Highway 101 in Agoura Hills, Calif. Hoping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions and other species that require room to roam, transportation officials and conservationists will build a mostly privately funded wildlife crossing over the freeway. (Clark Stevens, Architect/Raymond Garcia, Illustration/RCD of the Santa Monica Mountains via AP) media_cameraAn illustration of what the wildlife crossing will look like over US 101 in Los Angeles, US. Picture: AP

The bridge will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space and better access to food and potential mates. Fewer animals crossing the road also reduces the accident risk for drivers.

The span along freeway US 101 will be the first of its kind near a major US city and stretch 61m above 10 lanes of busy freeway and a secondary road.

“When the freeway went in, it cut off an ecosystem. We’re just now seeing impacts of that,” said Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation.

Scientists have been tracking mountain lions fitted with GPS* collars. They found that roadways are largely trapping animals in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and across the middle of Los Angeles to Griffith Park, where P-22 has now settled.

media_cameraGriffith Park, Los Angeles, US, home of the Hollywood sign and the isolated mountain lion P-22. Picture: supplied

“They can’t get out of here to get dates, and cats can’t get in to get dates,” Ms Pratt said.

The result of that isolation and the inability to meet a mate, researchers say, is imminent* genetic collapse for mountain lions. Habitat loss has driven the populations to inbreeding that could lead to extinction within 15 years unless the big cats regularly connect with other populations to increase their diversity, according to a study published this year by the University of California and the US National Park Service.

Construction is expected to begin within two years and to be completed in 2023, according to engineer Sheik Moinuddin, project manager with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The bridge will be about 50m wide at the top and to the animals crossing it will look just like the surrounding natural bush. It will also include natural-looking sound and light barriers.

In this July 25, 2019, photo, U.S. Highway 101 passes between two separate open space preserves on conservancy lands in the Santa Monica Mountains in Agoura Hills, Calif. Hoping to fend off the extinction of mountain lions and other species that require room to roam, transportation officials and conservationists will build a mostly privately funded wildlife crossing over this freeway. It will give big cats, coyotes, deer, lizards, snakes and other creatures a safe route to open space and better access to food and potential mates. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) media_cameraUS Highway 101 dissects the habitat of many species of wildlife. Picture: AP

Moinuddin said Caltrans considers it a special project that the agency hopes will inspire others like it across California.

One of the reasons it’s special is that 80 per cent of the money to build it will come from private sources rather than government, Ms Pratt said. She’s in charge of fundraising and is using P-22 — “the Brad Pitt* of the cougar world” — as the poster cat for the campaign.

“He is world famous, handsome, everybody loves him,” she said about the cougar that’s been photographed in his park home with the Hollywood sign as a backdrop.

Despite being the face of the project, P-22 is unlikely to use the bridge because he’s now confined to the park kilometres away. But many of his relatives could benefit, Ms Pratt said.

Officials are considering offering naming rights to the bridge in exchange for a big donation, she said.

The remaining 20 per cent will come from public funds already allocated toward conservation projects, officials said.

Mountain lion gets world’s biggest wildlife bridge

Australia is a world leader in freeway and highway crossings for wildlife. When Compton Road was widened in Southeast Queensland 15 years ago, the redesign included a wildlife bridge, plus rope bridges for possums, poles for sugar gliders and tunnels for small animals to pass through. The project was a great success.

According to Queensland’s Griffith University, the Compton Road design has been used across Europe, including in seven locations in Sweden.

A 12m-wide wildlife bridge across the Tonkin Highway in Western Australia is due to be complete in September.

Wildlife bridges are now relatively common in western Europe and Canada. A famous one in Banff National Park in Alberta spans the Trans-Canada Highway and is frequently used by bears, moose and elk.

GLOSSARY

  • genetic diversity: healthy for a species; possible when lots of unrelated individuals are able to breed
  • conservationists: people who work to look after the natural environment
  • GPS: stands for Global Positioning System, or satellite mapping and tracking
  • imminent: happening very soon
  • Brad Pitt: famous Hollywood actor many people regard as very handsome

EXTRA READING

Extinction alert for one million species

Fighting extinction with world’s longest cat fence

Our 20 most endangered mammals

Kids campaign to save orang-utan habitat

QUICK QUIZ

  1. Why is P-22 famous and what has he come to be a symbol for?
  2. What will the top of the bridge look like?
  3. Why is it useful to have P-22 as the “poster boy” for the California bridge?
  4. Why is Western Australia mentioned?
  5. What crosses the bridge over the Trans-Canada Highway?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Choose the right animal
Even though P-22 is being used in the campaign to raise money for the wildlife bridge, he won’t be using it. There are other animals mentioned in the story who will. Choose one of these animals to use in an advertisement to encourage people to donate money for the wildlife bridge. Design a poster or write the script for a radio or podcast advertisement. Remember, your animal has to be the star!

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Media Arts, Visual Communication Design

2. Extension
Imagine you are in charge of deciding the name of the wildlife bridge. Do you think it should just be decided by the person or company who gives the most money? Write a list of rules or guidelines for naming the bridge that you think are fair and suit the project.

Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Civics and Citizenship, Personal and Social Capability

VCOP ACTIVITY
The grass is greener
Write a narrative picking one of the many animals mentioned in the article. Pretend to be that animal and living near a newly constructed wildlife crossing.

Do you cross?

Do your friends?

What adventure do you have, or does disaster occur?

Remember you are the animal so check the tense, nouns and pronouns throughout the piece support this.

HAVE YOUR SAY: It costs a lot of money to build a wildlife bridge. Is it worth it?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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