P-22, We hardly Knew Ye

P-22. Photo from the National Park Service public domain via Wikicommons.

Today Angelenos received the news that we all were dreading. P-22, Griffith Park’s beloved mountain lion, a symbol of everything free and wild in each of us, had to be put down. According to officials at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), he was put to sleep at 9 a.m. on Saturday ‘the 17th at San Diego Zoo Safari Park,

For weeks, the intrepid mountain lion had been increasingly wandering around populated areas and then he attacked three small dogs, even those on leashes, with a person at the other end. This told researchers he probably was no longer able to catch his usual prey anymore and was getting desperate. The photos also showed that he was under-weight with thinning hair. At approximately 12 years old, P-22 was elderly for a mountain lion, and the team caring for him was deciding whether or not to capture him for a checkup. That decision was made when a local animal shelter received an anonymous call that a driver had hit a mountain lion on Los Feliz Boulevard, near where P-22’s collar had recently pinged.

He was captured on Monday in a backyard in Los Feliz and taken to the San Diego Zoo for observation and medical care. In a Zoon Press release, it was reported that he had an eye injury, probably due to a car strike, and they were going to run further tests to see if there was more damage. They estimated it would take two weeks to check him out and measure his response to captivity and humans.

Unfortunately, it was already too late. There was “significant trauma to the mountain lion’s head, right eye and internal organs, confirming the suspicion of recent injury, such as a vehicle strike.” According to Hendrik Nollens, vice president of wildlife health at the San Diego Zoo, P-22 was also suffering from heart, liver, and irreversible kidney disease, as well as an extensive parasitic skin infection over his entire body and localized arthritis. He weighed only 90 pounds. “Based on these factors, compassionate euthanasia under general anesthesia was unanimously recommended by the medical team at San Diego Zoo Safari Park,” the CDFW said.

Beth Pratt, California Regional Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation, and a lifelong advocate for wildlife who had supported P-22 for ten years, wrote an obituary after sitting with him when he died. “I sat near him, looking into his eyes for a few minutes, and told him he was a good boy. I told him how much I loved him. How much the world loved him. And I told him I was so sorry that we did not make the world a safer place for him. I apologized that despite all I and others who cared for him did, we failed him. I don’t have any illusion that my presence or words comforted him. And I left with a great sadness I will carry for the rest of my days.”

Officials said P-22’s real cause of death was habitat loss and fragmentation. They called for the construction of more wildlife crossings in urban areas and well-planned spaces for them to roam. I believe we also need to slow or halt the development that is encroaching on our last wild areas and consider green corridors that allow animals to continue their natural migration patterns when planning construction.

P-22, a mountain lion, also referred to as a cougar or puma, was first spotted on a wildlife camera trap by NHMLA’s current Citizen Science Coordinator Miguel Ordeñana in 2012. It was an amazing discovery because there had never been any mountain lions in Griffith Park. P-22 came from the western Santa Monica mountains searching for territory to call his own. He had crossed both the 405 and 101 freeways to make it to Griffith Park, one of the rare places in our city with sufficient prey, particularly deer. Although he had everything he needed, his territory was small by mountain lion standards, and any prospective mate lived beyond the city traffic.

The cougar was collared and studied, exciting locals every time he showed up on a trail camera. he was basically the animal version of Jim Carrey in “The Truman Show.” He taught people to care about cougars, and all wildlife. He has probably done more to encourage local conservation than anyone.

In 2017, The Natural History Museum of LA set up a special exhibition in hopes of encouraging people to contribute conservation efforts and learn how to help local mountain lions. Perhaps P-22’s most enduring legacy will be the The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing in Agoura, which will link the animals of the Santa Monica Mountains to those across Liberty Canyon.

As Beth Pratt wrote in her obituary, “He changed us. He changed the way we look at LA. And his influencer status extended around the world, as he inspired millions of people to see wildlife as their neighbors. He made us more human, made us connect more to that wild place in ourselves. We are part of nature and he reminded us of that.”

If you would like to remember P-22 by contributing, here is the link.

This video, produced before P-22’s demise is an excellent overview. TW: There is an image near the end of a cougar that was hit by a car.

Elise Thompson

About Elise Thompson

Born and raised in the great city of Los Angeles, this food, culture and music-loving punk rock angeleno wants to turn you on to all that is funky, delicious and weird in the city. While Elise holds down the fort, her adventurous alter ego Kiki Maraschino is known to roam the country in search of catfish.
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