By Dalia Espinosa, Correspondent

Four baby mountain lions were found in Simi Hills near the 101 and 118 freeways, leading researchers to declare on Tuesday the first kitten den in the area.

National Park Service biologists have named the all-female kittens as: P-66, P-67, P-68, and P-69. Their mother is known as P-62 and has been tracked by professionals using radio telemetry since January.

“This is the first litter we have marked at the den in the Simi Hills, which happens to be a critical habitat linkage between the Santa Monica Mountains and larger natural areas to the north,” said Jeff Sikich, biologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, in a statement from a news release. “We are very interested to learn about how they will navigate the fragmented landscape and whether they will remain in the Simi Hills or eventually cross one or more freeways to the north or south.”

Sikichs suspicions grew that P-62 had given birth after he tracked a series of localized GPS locations, which hinted at denning behavior.

On June 11, biologists visited the den site under the presumption that the mother was away, but the attempts to find the litter initially failed.

Ultimately, the den was found on the 2,668-acre Santa Susana Field Laboratory site, a closed area that required access cooperation from Boeing Corporation. It is located between the Santa Monica Mountains and larger natural areas to the north.

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RELATED STORY: Mountain lion P-23 dies at 5½, showing how hard it is to be a big cat in Southern California

Since the capture, they have marked the kittens with ear tags, collected tissue samples, and conducted a general health check.

The National Park Service has been working since 2002 to preserve and increase connectivity for wildlife between the Santa Monica Mountains and other northern natural areas. All wildlife moving north-south into or out of the Santa Monicas must pass through the 101 or 118 freeways, according to the press release.

RELATED STORY: Scientists recommend 2 freeway bridges for mountain lion crossings in Los Angeles, Riverside counties

Eight more mountain lions have been tracked in the Simi Hills so far. This is the 15th litter of kittens that National Park Service biologists have found at a den site.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is in charge of overseeing the management and conservation of mountain lions in the state.

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