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Climate and Environment

RIP, P-22. Why The Beloved Mountain Lion Was Such A Big Deal For LA

A mountain lion walks through a rocky landscape at night
Rest in peace, P-22
(Miguel Ordeñana
/
Courtesy Natural History Museum of Los Angeles)
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P-22, the mountain lion that became a celebrity symbol of Los Angeles, was euthanized on Saturday.

“Biologists and veterinarians with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today they have made the difficult decision to end P-22’s suffering and help him transition peacefully to the next place," Beth Pratt, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement. "I hope his future is filled with endless forests without a car or road in sight and where deer are plentiful, and I hope he finally finds the mate that his island existence denied him his entire life."

(Here's the rest of Pratt's eulogy for P-22.)

P-22 was believed to be about 12 years old — an unusually long life for a puma.

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His death comes after he was captured in the backyard of a Los Feliz home on Dec. 12. A string of worrying behavior first indicated a possible decline in the cat’s health.

What Happened To P-22?

The National Park Service began tracking P-22 in 2012, making him the oldest feline in the agency’s study. He stayed mostly in his Los Angeles habitat, except for some strolls into nearby neighborhoods. But recently, the puma chased people in residential areas, attacking three pets and two humans, all in a short period.

Such behavior isn’t normal for mountain lions, according to the Fish and Wildlife department. The health assessment issued on Dec. 13 showed that the cougar was severely underweight and had signs of trauma on his face.

Pratt said on Saturday that vets released a list of "serious health issues they had uncovered from all their testing":

Stage two kidney failure, a weight of 90 pounds (he normally weighs about 125), head and eye trauma, a hernia causing abdominal organs to fill his chest cavity, an extensive case of demodex gatoi (a parasitic skin infection likely transmitted from domestic cats), heart disease, and more.

"The most severe injuries resulted from him being hit by a car last week," she added, "and I thought of how terrible it was that this cat, who had managed to evade cars for a decade, in his weakened and desperate condition could not avoid the vehicle strike that sealed his fate."

The wild cat had a thin fur coat and an injury on his right eye, according to the department, which may have been caused by a driver hitting him. Road incidents and rat poison are the leading causes of death for pumas in the Santa Monica Mountains, where P-22 was born. Before euthanizing him, it was unlikely that he would have been released back into the wild.

Pratt, who over the years has been P-22’s most staunch advocate, said in an earlier post that extraordinary steps were being taken to care for P-22 even though he hurt humans. The mountain lion was celebrated in L.A. as a worldwide face for wildlife protection efforts.

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The Big Cat’s Impact On LA

P-22 was a cougar after our own hearts, even if he never knew it.

While he stayed tucked away in the hills, he occasionally prowled the streets nearby. Each sighting on grainy doorbell camera footage or in person landed him on the news and social media. If you had to list uniquely L.A. passions, high up would be the Dodgers, street tacos and P-22.

A close-up of a mountain lion by side with a photo of a handsome white actor
(Courtesy Wikimedia Commons/DoD News Features. GFX by Sam Benson Smith.)

The “Brad Pitt” of mountain lions, as Pratt called him, collected accolades that rivaled most people’s dreams. He inspired children’s books, murals and music. The Natural History Museum has an exhibit about his life, and CicLAvia put him on a T-shirt. The big cat even had his own day for the last seven years.

He was a lonely bachelor because his life was one of isolation from his kin. Sometime before 2012, he left the Santa Monica Mountains to become an Angeleno in Griffith Park 50 miles away.

He was a king in a small territory. The park is about seven square miles, rather than the 150-mile sprawl adult males typically have, according to the National Park Service. But his proximity gave researchers a chance to learn more about the habits of mountain lions, and in P-22’s case, how they might adapt.

How P-22 Became An Angeleno

To get to L.A., P-22 survived what most wildlife dare not try: he crossed two major freeways, the 405 and the 101. GPS tracking shows only nine pumas have successfully crossed the 101 to get this far from the mountains. When others have approached the freeway, they turn tail and run.

Urban development has harmed mountain lions physically and genetically. The ones in the Santa Monica Mountains are inbreeding because they can’t safely spread out and find new mates. Pratt has spent the last decade working on the #SaveLACougars campaign to raise millions for the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Corridor, the world’s largest wildlife bridge, which will be completed on the 101 by 2025. Naturally, P-22 is the poster child.

“I just kept thinking of P-22,” Pratt told LAist when the project broke ground. “I honored a promise to him. We gave this mountain lion population a shot.”

Since moving to L.A., P-22’s life was marked by both stardom and pain. His notoriety grew with Steve Winter’s photograph of the lion and the Hollywood sign. He survived mange after being exposed to rat poison in 2014. He enjoyed a brief stay under a mansion in 2015. The following year, the big cat was suspected of killing a koala at the L.A. Zoo. And he was found safe after the Woolsey fire in 2018.

P-22's Legacy

He unknowingly urged us to consider the impacts of urban living on wildlife. As our region has developed, it’s pushed countless species into the fringes who’ve had to find new ways to survive in the remaining land not covered in concrete, asphalt and people. But P-22 coexisted with us for the last 10 years. His lifestyle is thought to have extended his years since he didn’t have to deal with the challenges of other male pumas. P-22 was around 12 years old, a remarkable age in the wild.

Only around a dozen adult mountain lions remain in the Santa Monica Mountains.

While wildlife conservationists work to save these animals, we should be reminded of our role. P-22 was a wild cat that made do with the few swathes of nature our city offers. His instinct pushed boundaries. One of P-22’s last “messages” on #SaveLACougars can help us remember him well.

“Ain’t no party like a mountain lion party, cause a mountain lion party don’t stop!”

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