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Life and Death of P-22
L.A.'s Most Famous Mountain Lion

P-22, Mountain Lion, Puma, Cougar, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

Mountain lion P-22 in 2019. Photo from the U.S. National Park Service.

P-22, or officially, P-022, or Puma 022, was the oldest big cat in the National Park Service's mountain lion research program for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. He was also L.A.'s most famous mountain lion. He was the direct offspring of P-001, the very first big cat in the research program. P-22's father was considered the "king of the mountains," having been tracked across almost the entire 800 square miles of the Santa Monica Mountains. What brought P-22 even greater fame than his father was that P-22 somehow managed to make his way from the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park in Los Angeles. The feat required that he survive a 20 mile journey in which he would have had to cross two major freeways (the 405 and 101). No other lion was ever known to have survived such a perilous journey.

P-22, Mountain Lion, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

Map of Los Angeles, from the Santa Monica Mountains in the west to Griffith Park in the east. Although no one knows P-22's specific migration route, the arrow path offers some idea of how much territory he had to cross to end up in Griffith Park. Los Angeles Almanac map.

In February 2012, P-22 was first detected in Griffith Park by camera traps set up in the park by biologist Miguel Ordeñana (who grew up in the area of the park). Ordeñana fully expected to see coyotes and deer, among other wildlife. Ordeñana described first seeing the image of a mountain lion among his captured images like seeing an image of Bigfoot. Until then, no one thought that a mountain lion could ever make its way to Griffith Park. A month later, National Park Service biologists managed to capture P-22, weigh and measure him, collect blood and tissue samples, and fit him with a tracking collar.

P-22, Mountain Lion, Puma, Cougar, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

P-22, a new resident of Griffith Park, after his first capture in 2012. He was then fitted with a tracking collar. Since then, he ended up being captured five more times, mostly to replace the battery in his collar. Photo from the U.S. National Park Service.

By August of that year, P-22 made the front page of the Los Angeles Times it in its first profile of Griffith Park's new resident, Mountain Lion Makes Itself at Home in Griffith Park.

In 2013, National Geographic photographer Steve Winter, after patiently waiting for almost a year, captured his famous nighttime image of P-22 in a wildlife camera trap. The image included the iconic Hollywood Sign lit up in the background. The image gave P-22 the nickname, "Hollywood Cat" along with celebrity status.

P-22, National History Museum of L.A. County, Steve Winter, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

National History Museum of Los Angeles County 2018 P-22 exhibit showing 2013 camera trap image by National Geographic photographer Steve Winter. Los Angeles Almanac photo.

Griffith Park was far from ideal for even a single mountain lion. Typically, adult male lions need about to 100-150 square miles in which to range. Anything less than 30 square miles would be unsustainable. P-22 only had about nine square miles in Griffith Park and its environs. Yet, somehow, P-22 made the best of it. Although it wasn't ideal, it was exclusively his.

In 2014, wildlife specialists captured P-22 again in order to swap out his tracking collar battery. It was then determined that he was suffering from a life-threatening case of mange, brought by exposure to rat poison. It was believed that the exposure was from consuming prey that had itself ingested rat poison. The animal was treated and, subsequent to his release, showed considerable improvement.

P-22, Mountain Lion, Puma, Cougar, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

P-22 in 2014, found to suffering from a case of mange, due to exposure to rat poison. Photo from the U.S. National Park Service.

In 2015, P-22 caused a stir when he was discovered underneath a residence in Los Feliz, a community next door to Griffith Park. Crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the celebrity mountain lion. Wildlife officers tried coaxing him out, but, their efforts were unsuccessful. Finally, early in the following morning, long after everyone had given up, P-22 determined it was safe to emerge. By 4 a.m., his tracking collar indicated that he had returned to the park.

P-22, Mountain Lion, Puma, Cougar, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

P-22 in 2014, showing improvement after his treatment for mange. Photo from the U.S. National Park Service.

In 2016, a 14-year-old Los Angeles Zoo koala named Killarney was found to be missing. Zookeepers later found evidence, about 400 yards away from the compound, that the 15-pound animal had been carried off over an eight-foot wall. He was clearly dead, after having suffered very serious trauma, consistent with a predator attack. Although koalas instinctually spend their nights in the trees at the koala compound, Killarney was known to hang out on the ground of his enclosure at night, making him particularly vulnerable to a predator attack. Zoo surveillance cameras didn't capture the attack, but, they did capture the image of a mountain lion near the compound. Since P-22 was the only known mountain lion in Griffith Park, it was easy to narrow the list of suspects. Nevertheless, as tragic as the loss of Killarney was, wildlife experts did not consider P-22's behavior to be extraordinary. Zoo officials were aware that coyotes and bobcats roamed the park, as did a mountain lion. They just needed to figure out how predators found ways into their facility and how safety features could be improved. There were some calls for P-22 to be relocated, but, these were unsuccessful. It was argued that it was just as important to protect the presence of natural wildlife (who lived here long before pets and zoo animals and even human beings) as it was to protect zoo animals and pets. The zoo, as do local pet owners, simply had to figure out how to share the same space with local wildlife.

P-22, National History Museum of L.A. County, P-22, Griffith Park, Los Angeles

National History Museum of Los Angeles County 2018 P-22 exhibit. Los Angeles Almanac photo.

By 2022, P-22 was the oldest mountain lion in the National Park Service's research project. In the wild, male mountain lions typically have a live span of up to ten years. P-22 was believed to be 12 years old. Very roughly speaking, he was the mountain lion equivalent of a 75 to 80-year-old human male. That P-22 had lived so long was remarkable, considering how little territory he had available for hunting and how many human-sourced threats he encountered, such as poison and motor vehicles. In early November of 2022, P-22 attacked and killed a Chihuahua named Piper, while the dog was on a leash with its owner. The attacked occurred after dark in the Hollywood Hills. It was said to be the first known attack by a mountain lion on a leashed dog in the Los Angeles area. P-22 did not act aggressively towards the human owner once he had the dog. Less than a month later, P-22 again attacked a small dog on a leash, again after dark, but, this time, in the Silver Lake neighborhood. The owner managed to fight the mountain lion off and save his dog. Considering P-22's advanced age and these unusual attacks, Wildlife experts became concerned that he was showing signs of distress. On December 8, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that it intended to capture P-22 for a veterinary evaluation. The mountain lion was a celebrity, though, and, the agency anticipated that some might try to get involved. The agency cautioned the public to leave the animal alone if seen and leave it to expert wildlife officers to handle the capture of P-22 on their own.

On December 12, P-22 was located and captured by wildlife officers in a Los Feliz neighborhood backyard. He was then transported to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in Escondido for a thorough veterinary examination.

At the Safari Park, a team of expert veterinarians determined that P-22 had suffered significant trauma to his head, right eye and internal organs. This confirmed suspicions that he had been struck by a motor vehicle in the Los Feliz nieghborhood on the night before his capture. P-22 also had significant pre-existing illnesses that included irreversible kidney disease, chronic weight loss, extensive parasitic skin infection over his entire body, and localized arthritis. All these conditions, coupled with his advanced age, would have required extensive long-term veterinary intervention, offering no hope of a positive outcome. Based on these factors, the veterinary team unanimously recommended that P-22 be compassionately euthanized. California Wildlife officials made the decision to do so on December 17.

P-22's remains were to be returned to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles County, for examination by museum biologist Miguel Ordeñana. Ordeñana was the biologist who, in 2012, was the first to detect P-22's presence in Griffith Park.

P-22's story is remarkable. His direct ancestoral line in Southern California goes back at least 8,000 years. He was the offspring of "king of the mountain" P-01, the first subject in the National Park Service's mountain lion research project. As a young mountain lion, he survived a perilous journey across 20 miles and two major freeways in an urban environment. He managed to scratch out a life on a constricted patch of territory that was believed to be far too small, if not impossible, for even one mountain lion to survival in. He lived an extrordinary long life for a mountain lion against tremendous odds. His life highlights the need for safer passageways for wildlife to range between wilderness areas with minimal need to interact with human activity.

National History Museum of L.A. County, Los Angeles

Children at the National History Museum of Los Angeles County's 2018 P-22 exhibit try their luck at a demonstration of the danger to wildlife trying to cross busy freeways. Los Angeles Almanac photo.