Featured image credit: National Park Service
The era of P-22, the mountain lion Los Angeles residents have adopted as an unofficial mascot, is coming to an end. On Thursday December 8th, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) announced sudden plans for the perplexing puma. Their intent: to capture P-22 and bring him in for a “health evaluation”. Just four days later, he was found, sedated, and captured in the backyard of a Los Feliz home. Upon examination, the CDFW found P-22 in deteriorating health. Now, they are making the tough decision between euthanization or captive care at a zoo or preserve. After the iconic mountain lion’s increased urban activity (including the taking of a leashed pet) and a decade of wonder, the city is losing one of its brightest stars.
Update: Unfortunately, the extent of P-22’s injuries required him to be euthanized. The city continues to mourn the loss of this iconic, one-of-a-kind mountain lion as Los Angeles considers the best way to memorialize him.
Encounters with P-22
It’s not just the residents of LA who recognize P-22. The mountain lion Los Angeles has claimed is world famous. After all, it’s not everyday that a big cat chooses to live in the center of urban sprawl. Over the last decade, the rare sighting of P-22 has been met with wow and acclaim. We’ve even mentioned him in this blog before. Unfortunately, P-22 sightings have been rising over the last year… as have encounters with humans.
Normally sated by the population of wild deer and coyotes in Griffith Park, P-22 has been wandering into the surrounding hill communities. While he’d occasionally turn up triggering a security camera in Silver Lake or caught in the headlights of returning club goers in Los Feliz, these sightings contributed more to his sense of mystical wonder.
A Sudden Change in P-22’s Behavior
This all changed late in the evening on November 9 when P-22 attacked and killed a leashed chihuahua mix mere feet from its stunned owner. This didn’t happen on some dark Griffith Park hiking trail. It happened on a residential street in the Hollywood Hills.
Officials assured residents that P-22 was still unlikely to attack a human. But the alarm increased on Sunday, December 4 when the mountain lion mauled another chihuahua. In this case, the dog’s owner was mere feet from his front door and successfully fought off P-22. The chihuahua received stitches, but ultimately survived the shocking encounter.
The Unusual Mountain Lion Los Angeles Calls a Resident
P-22 is considered something of an anomaly among mountain lions. His Griffith Park home offers the smallest known habitat range for a male mountain lion in recorded history. This leaves P-22 very limited when it comes to natural challenges such as scarce food sources or the pains of aging.
Strangely, the insular quality of Griffith Park is also likely responsible for P-22 living beyond the age of most male mountain lions in the wild. P-22 is no spring kitten. Researchers estimate the mountain lion Los Angeles has claimed to be somewhere between 11 and 12 years old.
The average male mountain lion lives about a decade in the wild. At that point, younger males competing for territory will often pose an insurmountable threat. Therefore, P-22’s lonesome isolation is likely why he’s still with us at all.
Signs of Distress
But it’s also this isolation that’s worrying researchers. Extended trips into populated areas are a potential warning sign that all’s not right with the puma. And while the mountain lion may be responsible for the 2016 death of a koala at the LA Zoo, he’s never been known to attack a leashed dog. At least not until a few weeks ago.
Hope for the Future
P-22 traversed two high traffic freeways to stake his claim on Griffith Park. It may not be the prize he expected, but it was hard-earned. And while P-22 can’t possibly understand his own legacy, his unique plight inspired the world’s largest nature crossing, currently underway over the 101 freeway. Environmentalists hope that more nature paths will prevent future mountain lions from sharing P-22’s fate.
While it may seem like P-22 is the only mountain lion Los Angeles calls a resident, the area has several known mountain lions outside of the city. P-22 was the only big cat in Griffith Park. Thus, he lived on an island, so to speak, surrounded on all sides by urban sprawl.
Yet, as P-22 is likely at the end of his time as a Griffith Park resident, life is beginning anew in the western Santa Monica mountains. In July, a puma known as P-99 gave birth to a quartet of female mountain lions. They’ve been christened P-109, P-110, P-111, and P-112.
The naming convention for the region’s mountain lions uses “P” for puma. The corresponding number is the puma’s placement in a federal study of regional big cats. The new cubs are nearly 100 placements away from a living legend, yet their lifetimes have still managed to touch.
The Fate of P-22
A caller placed an anonymous tip on Sunday, December 11 claiming that P-22 had been hit by a car. The next morning, researchers tracked P-22 using a GPS in the big cat’s collar. He had spent the night in the large, accommodating backyard of a Los Feliz home.
Images of researchers carting a sedated P-22 away in a green blanket may appear disturbing. But this is actually the best outcome for the aging puma. He is now under the skilled analysis of people who have devoted their lives to the betterment of these majestic creatures. Upon waking from tranquilization, P-22 was said to have a traumatized look on his face and damage to his eye; likely the result of the aforementioned hit and run.
No matter what happens now, the likelihood of P-22 returning to Griffith Park is non-existent. Malnourished and aging, the puma will need to be either euthanized or moved to a zoo or preserve for proper treatment. It’s a tough decision; one being made with full knowledge of its gravity.
We’re all fortunate to have lived in Los Angeles during the years that P-22 reigned over Griffith Park. He was a sort of Major Tom figure of the feline world; circling the twinkling city lights from his place in isolation. These kind of tragic figures aren’t meant to last, but it still hurts deeply when they finally burn out. It’s hard to find comfort in that. But there’s a certain beauty to the fact that, whether P-22 understands it or not, he has one of the greatest cities in the world behind him.