P-22, the famous Los Angeles mountain lion, has died


Mountain lion P-22 – which has lived in the heart of Los Angeles for more than a decade and has become the face of an international campaign to save California’s endangered mountain lion population – was ‘compassionately euthanized’ on Saturday morning due to injuries the cat likely sustained after being hit by a car this week and long-term health issues, officials said.

At a tearful press conference, doctors described a number of chronic illnesses that may have explained the puma’s unorthodox behavior in recent months, before announcing that P-22 “went to sleep” around 9 Saturday morning hours.

“It really hurts and I know it. It was incredibly difficult for several days,” said Chuck Bonham, director of the California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. “And for me, I felt the full weight of the city of Los Angeles.”

The cat was captured in a Los Feliz backyard earlier this week and had to be tranquilized and taken for medical evaluation. A few days earlier, wildlife officials said they received an anonymous report that P-22 had been hit by a car.

“P-22 had a number of serious injuries and chronic health issues, his prognosis was considered poor,” Bonham said Saturday morning.

The cat suffered a fractured skull, an injury to the right eye, herniated organs and a torn diaphragm, according to Hendrik Nollens, vice president of wildlife health at the San Diego Zoo. In recent days, doctors also discovered that P-22 suffered from stage 2 kidney failure, advanced kidney disease, advanced liver disease, and also suffered from a parasitic infection.

Bonham said wildlife officials began considering euthanasia on Thursday evening.

“This morning was the most convenient time for the procedure, knowing the arrangements that needed to be made,” Bonham said. “I’m going to rest hoping that yesterday could have been his last best day rather than continuing his situation and finally his last day being his worst day.”

P-22 was thought to be about 12 years old.

Wildlife biologists from the National Park Service and the state wildlife department captured the puma in December after it began showing increasing “signs of distress”, including three dog attacks. in a month and several near-miss encounters with bystanders in Los Feliz and Silver Lake.

A series of health examinations showed that P-22 was significantly underweight, with a thinning coat and damage to his right eye, possibly after being hit by a car. A local animal control department had received a call reporting a collision with a mountain lion, and P-22’s radio collar placed it near the intersection where the crash was reported, officials said.

A remote camera captures P-22 passing a nighttime Hollywood sign in Griffith Park.

(Steve Winter/National Geographic)

The cougar was not healthy enough to be released at Griffith Park, state wildlife officials said. Defenders, scientists and residents had harbored hopes that the beloved animal would be healthy enough to retire to a nature reserve.

P-22 surprised the world in 2012 when its fluffy hindquarters and black-tipped tail appeared in a picture taken by a motion-sensing camera in Griffith Park. The teenage cat had taken an unlikely hike to Griffith Park from his likely birthplace in the Santa Monica Mountains, traveling through the Hollywood Hills and across the 405 and 101 freeways.

P-22 was first introduced to the world in an article in the Los Angeles Times. The big cat quickly became a bona fide celebrity, appearing in a brilliant National Geographic article that showed the puma prowling outside the Hollywood sign at night, muscles rippling under its tawny fur.

Scientists speculated that the apex predator would go in search of a mate and more space to roam. Instead, the wayward cat has stayed in Los Feliz for more than 10 years, feasting on mule deer and raccoons and occasionally appearing on video doorbell cameras on quiet, hilly streets near the park. The cat lived alone and, as far as scientists can tell, never mated.

Spotting P-22 on a nighttime stroll has become one of the most coveted celebrity sightings in Los Angeles.

Like many cougars, sometimes called “ghost cats”, P-22 was shy by nature. For years, he preferred the dark canyons and hills of the park — and, occasionally, a dark city sidewalk — to populated areas. But he had recently begun to venture deeper into Los Angeles, wandering as far south as Silver Lake and staying in residential areas for longer periods.

These incursions coincided with an increase in confrontations with humans, including the attack of three dogs in the space of a month and the pursuit of a man and his dog up a series of steps and into their home in Silver. Lake, wildlife officials said.

The discovery of P-22 in the park in 2012 led to one of the most unusual parts of his life: the city taking his side, instead of demanding that he be kicked out. Big cats roam large swaths of the United States, but few cities would allow a cougar to live among them, let alone stick around for a decade.

Many Angelenos have seen themselves in P-22, an aging bachelor who has adapted to too small a space in the big city, waiting for a mate who may never arrive. Others identified with his story, crossing borders and highways in search of a place he could call home.

“Crossing the border, being persecuted in certain parts of the country – people feel a connection to that,” said Miguel Ordeñana, the scientist who discovered P-22, in a 2022 interview.

P-22 went on to achieve the kind of lasting fame that most Angelenos can only dream of. Her photogenic face, including dark markings around her eyes that looked like eyeliner, appeared in a documentary and an exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. The fat cat featured on socks, tattoos and bumper stickers. And by order of the city council, every October 22 was celebrated as “P-22 Day”.

The presence of P-22 in Griffith Park served as a reminder that Los Angeles is far wilder than it appears, with one of the highest levels of biological diversity of any major city in North America. The big cat’s isolation in the park, surrounded by highways, helped it become the poster cat for the conservation campaign called “Save LA Cougars.”

On Saturday, Bonham noted P-22’s status as an environmental icon and said he hoped the cat’s death would remind Angelenos and developers that the townspeople need to find better ways to coexist with the nature.

“I know this morning that you feel like you’ve lost your king, but he will never, ever be forgotten…we put him in this predicament because of our built environment,” Bonham said. “We can solve this problem. We need everyone to rise up…to fix this built environment so these majestic animals have the freedom to roam.

Highway 101 forms a nearly impenetrable barrier to the endangered mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains, cutting them off from a larger gene pool to the north. This led to inbreeding which caused genetic abnormalities and could lead to infertility.

Recent scientific modeling has drawn a dire conclusion: without intervention, the mountain lions of Santa Monica and Santa Ana could disappear within 50 years.

California nature activists have spent more than a decade raising $77 million in private donations and state funding for a wildlife bridge over a 10-lane stretch of the 101 in Agoura Hills, which they hope- them, will expand the breed’s gene pool. The plight of P-22, alone in a tiny territory landlocked by highways, has drawn support from around the world, including Leonardo DiCaprio’s charitable foundation.

The state opened the wildlife bridge in April. His presence, supporters say, may be P-22’s most lasting contribution.

“His story of isolation and entrapment is what really made people understand why a passage like this was needed, more than any scientific paper,” said Beth Pratt, California regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, who called himself Agent P-22. “He changed the world for his kind.”

Cougars are so secretive that they are sometimes called “ghost cats”, and P-22s have often gone days without being spotted. But there were also high-profile hijinks.

About two years after arriving at the park, P-22 appeared on trail camera footage looking gaunt, his tail as thin as a pipe cleaner. The NPS trapped him and treated him with topical medications and vitamin K injections, then released him.

Tests later confirmed that P-22 had been exposed to rat poison and suffered from mange, a parasitic mite. The photo posted of the big cat while he was sick has gone viral, showing the once-beautiful scruffy face, droopy eyes.

The image helped spur action in the California Legislature and ultimately led to a 2020 law temporarily banning certain types of rat poisoning.

A few months later, a contractor for a home security company found the cat lying in a crawl space under a house in the hills of Los Feliz. Soon helicopters were hovering above the street, covering the incident as an FBI raid. A local news station added a caption that screamed, “BREAKING NEWS: P-22 TRAPPED INSIDE HOUSE.”

When authorities finally cleared the area, P-22 returned, unseen, to Griffith Park.

In 2016, P-22 became the prime suspect in the death of a 14-year-old koala named Killarney, whose mutilated body was found about 400 yards from his enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo. The attack was not recorded, but zoo surveillance cameras placed the puma at the scene. Few animals can easily jump over an 8-foot fence topped with barbed wire.

After the attack, a councilman suggested P-22 be moved to a new habitat, saying Griffith Park was “ultimately not” suitable for him. But where the cougar could go stalled the discussion. Moving P-22 into a mountainous area already occupied by another mountain lion could be a death sentence, as big cats kill to protect their territory.

The zoo, however, sided with P-22. The director of animal programs at the zoo later told a Times reporter, “We are in Griffith Park, and Griffith Park is his home, and we have to respect that. You can’t blame a mountain lion for being a mountain lion.

A memorial service will be held for the big cat after Christmas, although specific plans have not been released. With tears streaming down her face, Pratt said she would meet with mourners in Griffith Park on Saturday.


Los Angeles Times

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