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P-22, The Famous Mountain Lion Of Griffith Park, Checks Out Healthy At 11 Years Old

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P-22 photographed during a re-collaring on Feb. 12, 2021 (Courtesy of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area)
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P-22 is probably the world's most famous mountain lion.

He made the seemingly impossible 50-mile-trip from the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park, crossing both the 101 and the 405 freeways to get there. It's a feat many fellow mountain lions just don't survive -- and he's still here, roaming the trails at the ripe old age of (we think) 11.

Local wildlife specialists have been keeping tabs on the puma since his great migration in 2012, and last month they got another chance to check him out when replacing his GPS radio collar -- something that happens every two years.

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"He looks good for an old cat," says Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the National Park Service's Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. "For as much as we can tell from the work-up we give these animals for that hour we have them in our hands, he appeared healthy and fine."

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The photo on the left shows P-22 at his March 2014 capture, when he was suffering from mange. The photo on the right shows P-22 at his December 2015 capture, without any skin lesions or scabs. (Courtesy of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area)

Time is treating P-22 pretty well, but that's partly because he's alone. Male mountain lions usually have a territory of about 150 square miles where they might encounter some competition and maybe a mate. But P-22 is living all by himself in about nine square miles in Griffith Park. He has plenty to eat, but will likely live out his days as a single cat ...unless he leaves the area, which Sikich says is unlikely.

AN ELUSIVE CAT

An estimated 10 million people visit Griffith Park each year and there have only been a few confirmed sightings in the nine years since P-22 moved in. "Even when we're out there tracking him," says Sikich. "He has a collar, we have an antenna. I know he's 15 meters in front of me. We never, never see these cats."

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But, says Sikich, the local mountain lions do see us.

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P-22 during a capture in 2015. (Courtesy of Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area)

WILDLIFE CROSSING

The mountain lion population in the Santa Monica Mountains may not survive without intervention, and more pumas coming into the area. Sikich describes the area as an "island" of habitat. "The south is bordered by the ocean, the east, the 405 freeway, the north 101 freeway and the west by agriculture fields," says Sikich.

The lack of space to roam, says Sikich, has led to inbreeding and a "very low genetic diversity" of the area's mountain lions. "We really need to get lines from north of the freeway to across the 101, south into our mountains and for our lions in Santa Monica to be able to leave."

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The solution could be in the Wildlife Crossing proposed for Liberty Canyon.

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A rendering of a wildlife crossing planned to span the 101 Freeway at Liberty Canyon. (Courtesy Living Habitats LLC/National Wildlife Federation)

It's a bridge that mountain lions and other animals can use to travel safely out of the area. The National Wildlife Foundation is raising money for the project through its "Save LA Cougar's Campaign." It's in the final design and engineering phase and, if all goes according to plan, the Wildlife Crossing will break ground in fall of 2021.

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