By CBSLA Staff

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The National Wildlife Federation announced Friday that philanthropist Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Foundation have donated a record $25 million conservation challenge grant to help break ground on a wildlife crossing over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills.

(credit: Living Habitats LLC/National Wildlife Federation)

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The campaign has already raised more than $44 million with the grant and needs to secure an estimated $35 million to “unlock” the challenge grant and to break ground in November on the landmark project at a location that is a formidable and virtually impenetrable barrier for many wildlife species, including mountain lions, bobcats and mule deer.

The crossing, expected to be the largest of its kind in the world, will provide a connection between the small population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains and the larger and genetically diverse populations to the north.

“It’s reconnecting the ecosystem, not just getting animals across the road,” said Beth Pratt, the National Wildlife Federation’s California regional executive director and leader of the #SaveLACougars campaign.

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Collin O’Mara, the National Wildlife Federation’s president and CEO, said the challenge grant is the largest ever received by the organization and puts it closer to breaking ground on the project later this year.

“Wallis Annenberg’s grant will protect this global biodiversity hotspot  — recognized as one of only 36 biodiversity hotspots worldwide — and ensure that California’s iconic mountain lions and other wildlife can find the food and mates they need to survive by reconnecting the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills and beyond,” O’Mara said.

More information about the campaign can be found at savelacougars.org.

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(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)