L.A.’s Celebrity Mountain Lion, P-22, Was Also Its Hostage

For more than a decade, the people of Los Angeles have coexisted with a mountain lion living in the center of town.
Photo: Uncredited/AP/Shutterstock

P-22 wasn’t seen much in public, but when it was, it became an event. People would share Ring footage of the giant cat casually weaving into the camera shot, always followed by breathless comments: “I can’t imagine what it would be like to meet P-22 – did he look at you guys?” In the decade since he was discovered for the first time by wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana’s Griffith Park trail cameras, P-22 (the 22nd cougar tagged by the National Park Service) was a local celebrity – the subject of museum exhibits and profiles. But aged 12 or 13, after being hit by a car and a series of aggressive incidents involving humans and dogs, P-22 was captured and “compassionately euthanized” last weekend. And with that, Los Angeles lost its most reclusive star. It was a strange and probably sad life for a cougar.

For most of the time wildlife officials tracked him by radio collar, P-22 tended to stay in the 4,310 acres of deer-saturated urban wilderness of Griffith Park, though he ventured sometimes in adjacent neighborhoods. Beyond occasional paparazzi shotit hasn’t usually made the headlines – save for an unfortunate detour to the city zoo in 2016, when he devoured a koala named Killarney. But something has changed in recent months. In November, P-22 killed a chihuahua take a walk in the Hollywood Hills – just a few blocks from Griffith Park. A few weeks later he went after another Chihuahua three miles further at Silver Lake. The dog survived, but the human who fought P-22 ended up in the ER with 14 stitches. Soon the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced its intention to capture and observe P-22, and last week it did.

In a dramatic conclusion to his time in the big city, P-22 was tracked to a Los Feliz backyard, where NPS and CDFW agents put him to sleep with a single tranquilizer dart, gently enveloped him in a green tarp and transported him to Los Angeles. The clinic at the Angeles Zoo, then to San Diego Safari Park for a full evaluation. Over the next few days, under the care of six veterinarians and four specialists, a grim prognosis of chronic health issues began to emerge: dramatic weight loss, kidney failure, liver disease, an extensive parasitic infection and evidence of a recent injury. In the end, his quality of life had deteriorated so much, they said, that the alternative plan of sending P-22 to a wildlife sanctuary was no longer an option.

P-22 had lived longer than most cougars tracked by the NPS, and his old age made it difficult for him to survive in the wild, officials said. But what constituted the “wild” for P-22, like other LA pumas, was a dense urban environment that, once in, was not very easy to leave. Due to the multiple mountain ranges that run through Los Angeles County, it’s not uncommon to spot mountain lions, sometimes even in the city proper. But P-22 became a mascot of LA, because he was more or less trapped. Coming to Griffith Park around 2012 meant crossing at least two highways. (It’s a journey his human defenders made on foot – about 50 miles.) His achievement, impressive as it was, doomed him to a life of relative isolation.

“We put it in this predicament because of our built environment,” Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in tears during Saturday’s press conference. “We need everyone to stand up, raise their voices, create this moment to fix this built environment, so these majestic animals have the freedom to roam.” The solution Bonham was referring to is wildlife corridors – networks of bridges, tunnels and greenways planted with native flora that would allow mountain lions and other animals to safely navigate the deadly infrastructure centered on the car that carved out their habitats. The largest wildlife bridge in the world is currently under construction on the 101 – a highway crossed by the P-22 ten years ago. Making this infrastructure necessary for all road projects in the area would mean that the next mountain lion heading to Griffith Park wouldn’t be stuck there – it could move safely across town, from a municipal park at the nearby LA Riverbed National Forest, so it can hunt, mate and thrive.

The urgency to build these corridors has become all the more clear during the last weeks of P-22 in the city. In addition to his confrontations with humans and pets, wildlife officials had received an anonymous tip that a driver hit a cougar in the same neighborhood where P-22 was eventually captured. Witnesses came forward saying they saw P-22 hit by a car at a busy intersection in Los Feliz. P-22’s location at the scene was confirmed at Saturday’s press conference, as was the fact that his most serious injuries – skull fractures, a laceration near his eye and a hernia of his abdominal organs – had been caused by blunt force trauma from a car. “It was indeed evident quite early on that there had been acute injuries – it was a trauma patient – ​​consistent with a collision with a vehicle,” said Hendrik Nollens, vice president of health at the wildlife for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, as he showed CT scans. from the chest cavity of P-22. Damage to P-22’s internal organs, including his lungs and heart, would have required invasive surgical repair for him to survive. It is a tragically common occurrence. Five cougars were killed by cars locally (including one last month) in 2022.

In a move praise, California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, Beth Pratt, who has a drawing of P-22 under the Hollywood sign tattooed on her arm, seemed stunned that, with all he had endured, it was a car that ended P-22’s life after all. “I thought how terrible it was that this cat, who had managed to evade cars for a decade, in his weakened and desperate state, could not avoid the collision with a vehicle that sealed his fate” , she wrote. “I hope future cougars can follow in the footsteps of the P-22 without risking their lives on the highways and streets of California.”

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