The Lion's Eye
Santa Monica Mountain Lions have very large territories. The males need more than 100 square miles and the females less than 100 square miles. The males’ territories overlap the females. The entire SMMNRA is only 250 square miles, so there is room for only a few.
Lions can travel distances of as much as 20 miles in a day, so they can check out their entire territories every week if they choose. The SMMNRA starts at the southern edge of the Oxnard Plain and extends all the way to the 5 freeway at the eastern edge of Griffith Park, a distance of 40 or so miles. The freeways are a barrier to lions, only one known lion (P-22) has travelled to Griffith Park. The 405 killed P-18 when he tried to find a new home, heading east. Other lions not in the Santa Monicas have been killed trying to cross interstate 5 in the Glendale area.
The last major fire was across the 405 from the Getty Museum a couple of weeks ago. It was less than 100 acres or a sixth of a square mile and was on a nearly vertical hillside, you can still see the burn. It was not in prime lion territory but you can bet they smelled it.
Remote cameras show lions sniffing and glancing about when they return to their deer kills. They use their vision and smell and hearing to check what’s around, since other lions are a constant threat.
Lions are very fast, they can run at 35 miles per hour and leap 30 feet or more in a single bound and do so when attacking deer. They can also negotiate vertical rock walls for short distances. So lions can get away from fires unless they are trapped in the back of a canyon with high walls at the end. They know the canyons pretty well and so probably would not head up one they could not get out of.
The oldest lion in the mountains for a long time was P-1. He lived perhaps 14 years and was the reigning patriarch during his life time, having personally killed off the competition including his mate and his descendants. During his life time you can bet he avoided a lot of fires by fleeing to some other part of his territory.
So the next time you’re headed up the highway and there’s a fire, think of the deer, the bobcats, the coyotes and the lions. They are all fleeing for their lives, racing up the fastest escape route over the mountain and far away. If one races across Kanan or Las Virgines ahead of you, give them a little space, there are not too many around. Also keep an eye out for the fire trucks.