P-22 Memorial: Thousands Gathered To Remember LA’s Famous Mountain Lion
The celebrity mountain lion of Griffith Park, P-22, was remembered in a grand celebration at the Greek Theatre on Saturday.
Free tickets for the P-22 Celebration were booked up well in advance. Thousands gathered on a bright afternoon to see musical performances, dances and speeches in tribute to P-22.
When P-22 was euthanized in December, Los Angeles showed an outpouring of grief and love for the lonely cat and all he represented. That was reflected in Saturday's memorial, which had been scheduled to last two hours but stretched to nearly three and a half hours.
National Wildlife Federation California Regional Executive Director Beth Pratt, who has been P-22’s spokesperson for a decade, was emcee for the celebration.
“There's going be some really emotional moments where you're gonna see 6,000 people at the Greek Theatre, all in tears passing Kleenex around but largely focused on celebrating that we got to spend time on the planet with this remarkable animal,” she said prior to the event.
The memorial program featured musical performances, a section on how to honor the legacy of P-22, speeches from those who had connections to the mountain lion, and some special surprise guests, including DJ and music producer Diplo.
Theater has filled up. You can watch live here: https://t.co/MT5fXvJ8Vu pic.twitter.com/HXALiC0tVt— Erin Stone (she/her) (@Erstone7) February 4, 2023
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Voices From The Crowd
People got to the Greek Theatre early to pay their respects to L.A.’s most beloved — and arguably the world’s most famous — mountain lion. The gates didn’t open until 10:30 a.m., but by 9 a.m. the line to enter the theater stretched far down Vermont Avenue in Griffith Park.
Here’s what a few attendees had to say about P-22’s perseverance in the center of the concrete jungle.
Howard Stein, Studio City
Stein said he has for years felt a personal connection to P-22 — especially his status as a long-time bachelor.
“That he lived up in these hills, never got married and managed to survive for over 10 years here,” Stein said with a fond chuckle. “I've been married, I have a grown son, but I've never remarried. I'm kind of a loner myself. I have wonderful friends, but as far as my life, I'm a solitary person, and so that definitely rang with me about him.”
He’s also long loved P-22’s domesticated brethren. He has two cats of his own — and one of them, he said, looks just like a mini version of the handsome P-22.
Stein even just got a tattoo on his left forearm to honor P-22. It reads "P-22" in between the mountain lion's famous two eyes. On his other forearm is his late sister’s name. He said she was a big influence in his becoming an animal lover.
“She fed feral cats all the time. She rode horses and everything,” Stein said. “So now, on both my forearms, I have my sister and P-22, forever.”
Babetta Gonzalez, Temple City
Babetta Gonzalez had a special mask made for P-22’s celebration of life — a beautiful pink and blue-hued eye mask shaped like P-22’s face.
“I saw him on that camera the very first time, and I could not believe that a lion could survive here,” Gonzalez said, referring to the famous photo by Steve Winter. For her, P-22 symbolized overcoming personal struggle.
“I admired his perseverance,” she said. “I was sad when he passed away and I was praying for him to get better, but unfortunately we knew he had to go.”
She said despite his difficult circumstances, he left a legacy of joy for millions of people.
“He inspired so much happiness. I mean, look at all the people that are here,” she said, sweeping her arm towards the people filling up the red seats of the Greek Theatre. But ultimately she hopes he inspires us all to live better with – and do better by – our local wildlife.
“We have to remember that we are in their neighborhood and we need to respect their environment,” she said. “We have integrated, but we could do a lot better.”
Griff Griffith, Jasmine Gaston and Erika Granadino, Humboldt County
Griff Griffith, an “edutainer” with Jumpstart Nature and educator with California State Parks, Jasmine Gaston, a small business owner, and Erika Granadino, a bilingual environmental educator with Humboldt’s Redwood State Park, all came down from Humboldt County to celebrate P-22’s life. They also did a short performance on stage at the end of the celebration.
Gaston grew up in L.A. and invented the official P-22 Dance Move after learning in 2016 that he had long roamed her home town.
“I've been to the Griffith Park so many times – I had no idea there was a mountain line up there with us. Good lord,” she said with a hearty laugh.
Now, she said, P-22 is her homeboy – and she came up with a dance to honor him. It’s essentially a combination of Thriller hands and the stanky leg, she said.
“I didn't really know too much about mountain lions, I used to think that they were scary before I really got to know P-22,” she said, demonstrating the first part of the move, throwing up her hands like Michael Jackson did in Thriller. Then she added the stanky leg.
“I'm a dancer, I like to dance in the mirror at home, you know, by myself,” she said laughing. “So the stanky leg was in. And it just clicked. It worked, you know?”
She said you don’t have to do the dance move well, but you do always have to do it outside. She said she hopes P-22 inspires others in the Black community to seek experiences in the outdoors.
“He inspired me to advocate for going outdoors. I think he's gonna be the one that's really gonna bring people of my ethnicity out into the outdoors,” she said. “We're city people, you know, we don't really get outdoors like that. And I really feel like P-22, I mean, just him getting this much media coverage and everything, he's really gonna change the world as we know it.”
Mike Hernandez, San Fernando Valley
Though he now lives in the Valley, Mike Hernandez grew up near Griffith Park, attending John Marshall High School, and he even had his first job as a parking attendant at the Greek Theatre. He came to P-22’s celebration with his wife and teen daughter.
“I care about animals, but I'm not a wildlife fanatic or anything like that,” Hernandez said. “But just the fact that the cat traveled through the area that I was brought up in…I am interested in how the mountain lion travels and all that.”
He recalled how his older daughter, who is in college in Montana, wrote a paper about P-22 while she was in high school while “he was coming up and getting famous years ago.” He said he wished his daughter could have attended today’s memorial with the rest of the family.
I think it's just a wonderful day, a wonderful time, to remember P-22.
Mostly, though, P-22 sparked his interest in learning more about mountain lions — and even how to help them.
“I just enjoy the cat. I like what he did, and we're willing to help the people that are fighting for him,” Hernandez said.
He pointed to the clear skies and green hills surrounding the theater: “I think it's just a wonderful day, a wonderful time, to remember P-22.”
The Story Of P-22
Since March last year, at least nine local mountain lions have died after being hit by vehicles, according to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which tracks mountain lions in the park. Most recently, 4-year-old P-81 died after being struck by a vehicle on January 22, the agency said.
That’s been a huge reason why the population in the Santa Monica Mountains faces extinction. Current adults number as low as 10. But wildlife crossings can help. One of P-22’s biggest legacies will be the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the 101. It’ll be the world’s largest and is expected to be completed in 2025. This year, L.A. City Council is expected to consider passing an ordinance to require protections of wildlife corridors from development.
P-22 was spotted in Griffith Park 10 years ago and became a regional mascot for urban wildlife and the dangers they face.
The male mountain lion traversed the 101 and 405 freeways to make his home in Griffith Park, a journey that many other pumas don’t survive. But his tiny habitat was a functional urban island, disconnected from potential mates and earning him the title of LA’s loneliest mountain lion.
P-22 died on Dec. 17, 2022 at the age of 12, quite old for a wild mountain lion. He was observed behaving abnormally which led to his capture. On examination, veterinarians found his injuries and illness were too extreme for rehabilitation, even in a wildlife sanctuary and decision was made for P-22 to be compassionately euthanized.
Part of P-22’s legacy is the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing now under construction in Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills. The bridge over the 101 will allow mountain lions and other wildlife to avoid the dangerous freeway.
Besides motor vehicles, another of the most deadly threats to mountain lions is rat poison. According to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, almost 100% of local mountain lions tested in a study had rodenticide in their systems. At least seven have died from rat poison, likely from eating prey that got into the poison.
Avoid using rat poison or other forms of chemical pest and weed control in your own yard can make a huge difference for all local wildlife. California banned the use of super-toxic rodenticides (the type found in most local mountain lions) in a law that went into effect in 2021.
Habitat loss from overdevelopment and a changing climate further make it difficult for animals to survive in landscapes in urban areas. Planting native California plants can also help support local pollinators. You can learn more about what species those plants support from the California Native Plant Society.
How We Covered This
KPCC/LAist host and reporter Julia Paskin offered live commentary from the studio. Reporter Erin Stone was at the event to provide details from the scene and hear from Angelenos who came to pay their respects. We carried this coverage live on 89.3 FM, via audio stream at kpcc.org, and via the video stream and updates on this story. And Kristine Malicse was sharing updates on our social media feeds.
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