Local Malibu couple Helmut and Patricia Meissner are putting up $50,000 in an effort to help build the planned wildlife crossing across the Ventura (101) Freeway near the Liberty Canyon exit in Agoura Hills. Their gift is in the form of a matching gifts challenge, where anyone making a donation of up to $50,000 to the Save LA Cougars nonprofit between now and Dec. 3 will be matched dollar for dollar by the couple. As a bonus, donations from new individual donors will be matched 3:1.

“It’s a privilege to live in the only city in the U.S. almost entirely surrounded by state and national parks,” Helmut said in an interview. “But it carries the responsibility to respect and take care of our surroundings. We decided to focus our share of responsibility on the mountain lions.”

The couple described how, after moving to Malibu about three years ago, they were amazed and fascinated to learn that mountain lions still roam the area. They live in a neighborhood adjacent to Pepperdine University, and heard multiple reports of mountain lion sightings on and near the campus. “We thought, ‘Wow, we have a mountain lion in our back yard!’” they described.

They also learned of P-22, the mountain lion that lives in Griffith Park near downtown LA, and went to see the P-22 film. It seemed inconceivable to them that the pumas hadn’t all been killed off a long time ago—that local residents seemed willing to co-exist with the large urban carnivores that mainly prey on deer. “P-22 is a sign that the City of LA embraces the mountain lions in their parks,” Helmut said. The couple now attends the annual P-22 Day Festival at the park.

The Meissners were also impressed by the resilience of the mountain lions, surviving the many threats they face from humans and wildfires.  

“Of 13 cougars with tracking collars during the Woolsey Fire, 12 survived and moved outside of the immediate burn areas,” Helmut noted.

Helmut and Patricia started learning more and more about the big cats through local talks and organizations.  They became aware of the Save LA Cougars campaign, which was founded by a partnership of the National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Mountain Mountains Fund, and supported by a public/private coalition of community organizations, businesses, government agencies, individuals and elected officials.

The Meissners learned what most Malibu residents already know—the local mountain lion population of the Santa Monica Mountains is facing severe threats. Even if it weren’t for rat poison and vehicles taking their toll, the big cats essentially live on an island surrounded by major highways, and are seldom able to cross those highways to disperse to new territories. Local scientists estimate the cats will go extinct in this area within another 50 years due to genetic defects from inbreeding. In order to keep that from happening, a major wildlife crossing is being planned over in Agoura Hills.

“With the generous donations of our supporters, we have completed the environmental documents, entered final design and engineering, and will continue our efforts to keep Caltrans on schedule to break ground in 2021,” Beth Pratt, California regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, wrote in a blub on the Save LA Cougars website.

The couple was inspired to give to the cause after meeting Paige, a nine-year old girl from Topanga who dedicates much of her free time to make and sell candles to raise funds for the wildlife crossing. 

“The next generation is engaged and concerned, and it makes us grown-ups responsible, too” Helmut said.

The couple has always had a soft spot for cats, big and small. They currently have two pet cats—one was a semi-feral cat they found living in a storm drain, which now walks on a leash. The other is a kitten from the shelter that they had to bottle feed. They also support Sarge, a 450-pound rescued Siberian tiger that now resides in a Texas wildlife sanctuary.

Anyone interested in donating to the couple’s matching gifts challenge through Save LA Cougars can go to: savelacougars.org/giving.

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