The Extraordinary Life of a Celebrated LA Mountain Lion Who Had to Be Euthanized
We often hear inspiring stories of animals who beat the odds and survived. One such celebrated animal was a mountain lion who roamed the streets of LA that had once made the famed Griffith Park his humble home.
The beast was photographed several times by prestigious newspapers and magazines. A memorable one was a shot of him prowling beneath the iconic Hollywood sign taken by photographer Steve Winter for a National Geographic magazine article. Sadly, the big cat’s extraordinary life ended abruptly when he had to be euthanized in December 2022. Here’s his inspiring story.
Initially Captured a Decade Ago
In 2011, the Griffith Park Connectivity Study was set up to better understand the park’s wildlife activity. Several motion-sensor camera traps were installed in and around the area to capture the images of the animals.
Miguel Ordeñana, a wildlife biologist, was browsing through the generated pictures when he first spotted the puma that would become LA’s pride. Then, Jeff Sikich led the mission to capture the young mountain lion in March 2012. The young cat was less than two years old and weighed around 90 pounds.
Officially Documented as P-22
After being captured, he was officially named and documented as P-22, a name that later became famous domestically and internationally. The P in the title stands for “Puma,” while the number 22 refers to him being the 22nd mountain lion to join the puma study.
A radio collar that tracked his movements through the day and the night was fitted on him, and he was let go to live his life in Griffith Park since then. He lived there for over a decade until his sad demise in 2022.
Puma Was Born to P-001
Interestingly, P-22 was born to a female lion P-001 in the same study around 2010 in the Santa Monica Mountains. The mountain lion cubs typically have dark stripes and spots that help camouflage them in the wilderness.
They stay by the mother’s side for a year, learning to become the best predator, until she cuts ties with her young ones, setting them free to carve out a hunting ground for themselves. Like every other cub in the vicinity, P-22 must have been on his own, fending for himself when he was first captured by the study.
His Unique Passage Into Griffith Park
P-22 was merely a year and a half when he set out to find a conducive habitat. Two high-traffic multi-lane freeways separated the western flank of the Santa Monica mountains where he was born and the eastern side. His incredible journey to Griffith Park from his birthplace became a testimony to his spirit and courage.
Both of them are also flanked by expansive urban sprawls. Yet, the brave mountain lion crossed the two major freeways in LA – 101 and 405, an almost impossible feat that most lions failed to accomplish without succumbing to the life-threatening attempts.
Graced the Front Page of Los Angeles Times
P-22’s journey into the spotlight began when his brave journey into Griffith Park by crossing two busy multi-lane freeways unharmed caught the media’s attention. The impressive feat earned him front-page coverage in the popular LA Times.
A detailed account of his courageous crossings was featured in August 2012, which made him incredibly famous. Five years later, the puma again made it to the newspaper’s front page in the “Week in the Life” feature story section, which delved deep into the lion’s diet and its movements around the city.
The Big Cat in the Wild
After finally setting up his kingdom at Griffith Park, P-22 was often out and about during the nights, prowling the streets of the LA neighborhood. On one of his nightly visits to the Hollywood Hills, he was famously photographed under the Hollywood Sign.
The tanned mountain lion was sleek, and the distinctive black markings around his eyes that framed his white muzzle became familiar. Soon the locals began expecting to see him on his leisurely walks. He caused them no harm, and the community slowly accepted him as their own.
The Island of Habitat
P-22 spent most of his life in Griffith Park, which became his chosen island of habitat, just like his natural one in the Santa Monica mountains. He may often be out on nightly prowls, but he always returned to the park where he felt most comfortable.
Yet the place, surrounded by the growing urban population and increasing number of freeways, became a restrictive zone for wildlife to freely roam around. It became increasingly difficult for animals to mark their territory in the small area.
Nine Square Miles of Griffith Park
The nine square miles of Griffith Park is not a large area by any means, and that was P-22’s home that he lived his entire life. Even as the interest in mountain lions in the area turned into a structured observation in the early 2000s, the biologist often pondered about it being the ideal home for lions.
The experts often worried that the park’s confines might push the lions to attempt another dangerous freeway crossing. They were also concerned about the park being surrounded by millions of people. Despite all the demerits, P-22 made it his home.
Never Found a Mate
As the years wore on, Griffith Park’s space constraints proved too restrictive for an adult lion like P-22. It was too small for him, curtailing his movements to a large extent, which is probably why he never really found a mate. At least, he never did, as far as the officials knew, and they knew everything about him and his movements.
Sadly, the biologists had always known that the isolated patch of his habitat would discourage him from finding a female companion. Unfortunately, that became the case until he was put to sleep in 2022.
Often Caught on Residential Cameras
Since his home was too small for P-22 as an adult lion, it makes sense that he would often venture out into the wild and sometimes stroll along the residential communities’ lanes. The neighborhood began to have expectations of spotting him prowling outside their homes.
In fact, people often hoped they’d run into him on their doorsteps when they returned home at night because the puma was often caught on their cameras on the front porch. It became akin to celebrity spotting for them.
Brought in for Care in 2014
Two years after P-22 came to live in Griffith Park, the officials brought him in for a routine collar swap only to find him immensely sick. He was highly distressed, with sunken eyes and a weary body; his fur was matted with whiskers and mange, and his tail was scrawny.
The LA cougar had probably ingested rat poison or eaten a skunk and had fallen terribly sick. Unfortunately, it was not uncommon for mountain lions to be targeted with poisons; over the years, many had succumbed to rodenticide.
LA's Most Beloved Celebrity
The news of his illness quickly spread, with several publications relaying the story to the public. People were concerned and wished for his speedy recovery. The entire LA community missed his presence in their neighborhood during his absence.
Several newspapers tracked the progress of his health and constantly reported it to the public, who considered him one of their most cherished celebrities. He had also gained quite international recognition by then. Photographs of him looking robust and healthy again were posted when he was sent back hale and hearty to his home turf, looking as handsome as ever.
Became a Cultural Icon
As the years passed, P-22’s popularity only grew with time. People were too invested and wanted to know how the mountain lion was faring. This increased interest inspired artists worldwide to showcase him as their subject.
In 2017, an exhibition featuring his exclusive photographs, video interviews of the official who knew him, and a retelling of his journey in the form of fun tales for kids was displayed in LA’s National History Museum. The same year, a coloring activity book with stories, puzzles, and activities created by 50 emerging artists was introduced.
Fighting for a Just Cause
The stories of LA’s dearly beloved lion as a surviving victim of rodenticide were met with an unprecedented public outcry about the readily available poisons in the open market. It spearheaded a movement that called for the ban on such lethal substances being used so easily.
Finally, the efforts brought on by their love for P-22 brought in positive results in October 2020 when California passed the law bill AB 1788, eliminating the use of several lethal anticoagulant rodenticides. This feat further cemented the puma’s status as a cultural icon.
An Interesting Participant of the NPS Study
While the mere existence of P-22 was unwittingly bringing about much-needed changes at the macro-level, the National Park Service was engrossed in studying the movements of the mountain lion. They found him an exciting participant whose behavioral patterns piqued their curiosity and made them doubly invested in the study.
In 2015, they found him nestling in the crawl space under a house in the park’s vicinity. As was the norm with P-22, the media thronged to the place to capture his movements with interest. Like an actual cat, he slipped away on his own under the cloak of darkness.
Ambassador for Wildlife Protection
The presence and the chronicles of P-22’s existence unwittingly turned him into an ambassador for wildlife protection. In 2016, he was suspected of being responsible for the disappearance of a 14 years old female koala in the LA zoo. After all, he was a predator, and the officials presumed the big cat might have jumped over the 15-foot wall to have a sumptuous meal.
Then, the officials allowed the zoo animals to roam freely outside their sheltered quarters at night. Instead of punishing the puma, this incident made them revoke that rule to better protect the wildlife.
Inspired the Construction of a Wildlife Crossing
The LA cougar’s incredible journey inspired the construction of the much-touted Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the ever-congested freeway 101 that P-22 had initially crossed on his way to Griffith Park. Thanks to the mountain lion drawing attention to the plight of animals crossing the freeways, the project kicked off in 2014, and the construction began in 2022.
P-22 became the perfect spokes-cat for the project critical for the survival of the entire puma population in the Santa Monica area. The bridge is designed to connect the various hill ranges to the larger ecosystem of the Sierra Madre Range.
The First P-22 Day Festival
In 2016, the LA council declared 22nd October as P-22 Day, and since then, the month has come alive with activities designed to honor the beloved puma every year. Visitors plan their visits to the place to coincide with the annual event.
That year, the National Wildlife Federation kickstarted Urban Wildlife Week, which had the hikers retrace the steps of the young mountain lion’s famous initial journey from the western Santa Monica mountain ranges to Griffith Park. The later years also saw the free festival include music, dance, and games for everyone to enjoy.
The Big Cat That Changed America
Throughout his 12-year lifetime, P-22 had drawn incredible interest from various forms of media, including documentary filmmakers. 2017 marked the year of further media exposure for the celebrated mountain lion. He became the illustrious subject of Tony Lee’s documentary The Cat That Changed America.
It featured the people associated with the big cat, such as Miguel Ordeñana, who first sighted him, Gerry Hans, and the NWF’s executive, Beth Pratt. No one knew P-22 better than these three, and their genuine affection for the lion came through in the film.
New Era of Urban Conservation
With P-22 hogging the limelight and inspiring people worldwide with his spectacular life journey, he contributed to the beginning of a new era of urban conservation. He was the revered celebrity in the land of celebrities who inspired the Save LA Cougars Campaign and several other wildlife conservation efforts by both independent and government organizations.
People fought for cougar conservation in his name, and their efforts saw bills being passed and rules being changed to better protect the interests of the large animal population in LA.
Regular Visitor of the Hollywood Hills
P-22 considered the Hollywood Hills as his home away from his habitat of Griffith Park. He became a regular visitor of the place, so much so that people dubbed him the “Hollywood Cat” after spotting him prowling under the legendary Hollywood Sign one too many times.
His celebrity status fit him well on this peculiar habit of his alone. The photo of him mid-prowl featured in National Geographic remains one of the most iconic shots of him in the history of animal photography.
Sudden Change in His Behavior
November 2022 saw a sudden change in the usually unassuming behavior of the lion. One night, near the Hollywood Reservoir, he attacked and fatally wounded a dog on a leash that was out for a walk. This was the first of many incidents of his unruly attacks that month.
Leashed pets were no longer safe in the residential communities surrounding his home at Griffin Park. Several sightings of him in close encounters that could have turned disastrous for the people in that area made the biologists wonder if he was distressed.
Found Him Severely Injured
Without much delay, the NPS officials contacted the agency responsible for the welfare of the mountain lion in the State to take further action. In December, their prompt response ensured that P-22 was brought in for a thorough medical evaluation; the results were shocking.
Besides suffering from severe trauma to his head, his right eye and vital internal organs were in a terrible state. The 12-year-old mountain lion lost weight, and his entire body was covered in parasitic skin infection. It soon became evident that he was hit by a vehicle, which put him in grave danger.
The Need for Euthanization
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife agency that helped NPS capture him for a health evaluation faced a difficult decision. Even with all the best medical intervention the team could provide P-22, he’d still be in a lot of pain.
This incredibly heartbreaking fact was why the CDFW decided to euthanize the beloved mountain lion, who had become a symbol of survival for LA and the world. No one would want the brave and aged cat to live out the rest of his life in excruciating pain.
Saying Goodbye to P-22
A decision was made, but for the people who have known him for over a decade, it became tough to say goodbye to their precious lion. The regional executive of California’s National Wildlife Federation, Beth Pratt, recounted how she had had with him crying her heart out on 17th December, the day he was euthanized.
She had told him that he was the best boy and that she loved him just like everyone in the world adored him. Beth agreed with the puma’s medical team, who did not want to prolong his suffering.
The Outpouring of Grief
The news of his demise shocked the world, and the LA residents expressed their grief on social media. They couldn’t believe they wouldn’t see him prowling through their neighborhood or their cameras wouldn’t catch him strolling in their lanes outside their homes.
Many cried over his passing, recalling memories of the big neighborhood cat. The official social media account of the State where the announcement was made was inundated with comments the same day from over 200 people grieving his loss.
Lived Past His Life Expectancy
At the time of his demise, the big cat was 12 years old, and by natural standards, he had outlived his life expectancy by two years. He became the oldest mountain lion in their study to live beyond his natural years.
According to the NWF, mountain lions can live up to 21 years when they lead their lives in captivity. Interestingly, the other lion to have done the same in their documented list of pumas was his mother, P-001. It was in his genes to surpass the norm.
Pre-Written Obituary by LA Times
The incredibly famous mountain lion was such an icon that his obituary was pre-written by the prestigious newspaper LA Times. This practice is usually reserved for only notable personalities. Of that sentiment, he was LA’s most recognized celebrity; hence, the lion was given celebrity treatment.
It meant that his obituary was well thought out and crafted at a time when he was still alive. His passing away shook the scientists and all the officials who had known him closely to the core. They were all in tears at the press conference.
In Memory of the Iconic P-22
While the world mourned the loss of the dearest puma in 2022, it also marked ten years after discovering P-22, and the occasion was celebrated with utmost love and sincerity. We are unaware of any other animal so lovingly embraced by people worldwide.
He had such an impact on wildlife conservation that the lion reminded us through his phenomenal presence that humans can coexist with these gorgeous creatures. State legislator Laura Friedman wishes to erect a bronze statue for the big cat in Griffith Park – and we can’t think of a more fitting tribute!