State Defends Its Handling Of The Los Feliz Mountain Lion Media Circus
Earlier this week Griffith Park's mountain lion found himself cornered by undue media attention—like many of Los Angeles' residents—leading some to wonder whether officials handled the situation properly.
On Monday night, P-22 wandered into the crawlspace of a Los Feliz home and wound up being filmed, poked, and shot at (with tennis balls and beanbags) as California Department of Fish & Wildlife officials tried to get the big cat out from underneath the house under the watchful eye of several news stations and reporters. To his credit, P-22 did not go the Kanye route and stayed put, obviously confused and possibly terrified of the commotion.
"It was as if the entire operation was intended to create compelling television rather than to maximize the welfare of the animal," wrote Jason G. Goldman on Slate. Cameras rolled (as Goldman notes, NBC 4 had a live stream feed) and reporters live-tweeted as Fish & Wildlife officers tried and failed to coax P-22 out from underneath the house. Irony was apparently lost on one reporter:
This poor kitty. He did not ask for this. He just wanted a normal and quiet life.— Pamela Chelin (@PamelaChelin) April 14, 2015
Of course as we wrote on Tuesday, getting a cat to do anything is impossible. Officials threw their hands up and figured P-22 would leave on his own volition overnight and of course that's exactly what he did once everybody left. Officials with the National Park Service and Fish & Wildlife confirmed that his radio collar signal was well into the wilderness of Griffith Park on Tuesday:
According to GPS data from the National Park Service, P-22 left the house not that long after the media left—by 2 a.m. that same evening he was already heading back into Griffith Park.
We asked Fish & Wildlife whether their tactics—that played well on TV and Twitter—were in the best interests of P-22 himself. Spokeswoman Janice Mackey said that though they plan to review footage, they believe "the CDFW responded to this call appropriately and with the utmost professionalism." Here's the statement Mackey sent to LAist:
When CDFW staff arrived at the location, reporters had already arrived and set up with homeowner's permission. (Penal Code 409.5 gives the media the authority to be on-scene in such a situation. While the code would not allow trespass onto private property, since the homeowner authorized the reporters to be on his property, they had a legal right to be there.) We assessed the situation and determined that since the cat was not displaying any signs of stress or aggression and the media was well out of the way, there was no reason to block access to reporters or force them to leave. We allowed one camera that fed into multiple streams, and was positioned in a safe and secure area. The pool camera crew was very cooperative. When we asked them to move, they did. The bright lights were actually part of the construction project of the house and could not be turned off by the homeowner, even after several attempts. Despite the challenges unique to this situation, our wardens were able to work without being hindered, and their actions were not influenced in any way by the news crews.
There is no "one size fits" all response to wildlife encounters. However, public safety is always our top priority, followed closely by animal welfare.
Although living right in the middle of one of the biggest cities on the planet, P-22 has gone largely undetected by humans—except for remote cameras that snap pictures, including that time he was stricken with mange. It's not surprising that the cat would be the center of so much attention, but as Goldman writes, "journalists acted as paparazzi, participating instead in the harassment and exploitation of a distressed animal."But there could be a silver lining to all this undue attention. On KCRW's Press Play, an ecologist with the National Park Service suggested that P-22's misadventure would "reinforce the idea that being close to people—and in people's houses—is a bad thing."