Remembering P-22, the famous Los Angeles mountain lion that haunted celebrity backyards

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Los Angeles is home to some of the richest and most famous people in the world. The wealthy neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Malibu and Santa Monica feature sprawling developments with multi-million dollar homes. Within these neighborhoods, you can find various celebrities including movie stars, professional athletes, and industry titans. All of these people dominate their respective industries and rank at the top of the social pyramid. With that being said, one of the most infamous celebrities in Los Angeles history is not a person but a wild animal.

For years, the cougar known as P-22 prowled the Hollywood Hills. Over a span of approximately 10 years, P-22 garnered a significant amount of media attention. Numerous books, movies, television shows, and other forms of art chronicle his life and impact on Los Angeles. Unfortunately, P-22’s life came to an end on December 17, 2022, after he was captured and euthanized by agents from the National Park Service (NPS) and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW). time they discovered that he had suffered a traumatic injury and suffered with various other long-term health problems. In this article, we will examine the history of the “Hollywood cat”. By doing so, we hope to honor his legacy and draw attention to the plight of cougars living in and around Los Angeles.

P-22, a famous mountain lion who lived in Los Angeles.
For years, the mountain lion known as P-22 prowled the Hollywood Hills, garnering a significant amount of media attention throughout its life.

©Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr – License

Mountain Lions Around Los Angeles

For thousands of years, cougars dominated the rugged landscapes of North America. However, the arrival of European settlers at the end of the 15th century marked a turning point in the history of pumas. Within a few hundred years, pumas were killed or driven out by humans across much of their historical range. Today, only 15-16 states in the US have established mountain lion populations. Of these states, several are home to only a few hundred cougars, and only a few have a cougar population of more than 2,000.

California boasts one of the largest mountain lion populations in the United States. According to estimates, between 4,000 and 6,000 cougars reside in the Golden State. You can see why mountain lions continue to thrive in the state by examining the California landscape. Although more than 39 million people live in California, the majority of its residents live within dense urban centers. Overall, approximately 47% of the state falls under the protected land category. This means that California cougars have access to large tracts of mostly uninhabited territory where they hunt and breed in relative peace.

While most mountain lions live in the remote mountains and forests of California, a small population bucks this trend. At any one time, you can find approximately two dozen cougars living in and around Los Angeles. Most of Los Angeles’ cougars live in the Santa Monica Mountains, just northwest of the city. However, a lion separated from the rest of his relatives and created a new home for himself in the heart of Los Angeles. This lion, P-22, resided in Griffith Park for nearly 10 years, during which time he earned a reputation for deftly avoiding the Hollywood spotlight better than even the most camera-shy celebrities. This is his story.

California has one of the largest mountain lion populations in the US.
California has one of the largest mountain lion populations in the United States, with an estimated population of between 4,000 and 6,000.

©Evgeniyqw/Shutterstock.com

P-22: The Early Years

P-22 was born around 2010 in the western half of the Santa Monica Mountains. His sire, P-001, was the first cougar to be captured and studied in the Los Angeles area. To this day, the identity of P-22’s mother is unknown. P-22 managed to stay off the radar of conservation experts until 2012, when a camera trap set up by the Griffith Park Connectivity Study spotted it. At the time, experts estimated P-22’s age at 1.5 years and his weight at around 90 pounds. In March 2012, biologists from the National Park Service managed to capture it and fit it with a GPS radio collar. They called it “P-22”. The “P” stands for “cougar,” another name for a mountain lion, while “22” refers to its rank in the ongoing NPS cougar study.

To this day, experts and fans alike marvel at how the P-22 got to Griffith Park. No one knows for sure how he successfully made the journey from the Santa Monica Mountains to downtown Los Angeles. Such a trip means that P-22 would have had to cross two major highways, the 405 and the 101. Since Cougars frequently miss those crossings, simply making it through one represents an incredible accomplishment. Passing both, especially at such a young age, almost defies belief.

P-22: Rise to Fame

The discovery of a mountain lion living in the vicinity of the Hollywood sign caught the nation’s attention. los angeles times ran a front-page story in P-22 in August 2012. The media madness continued when National Geographic Photographer Steve Winter set out to capture an image of the P-22, as the original trailing camera footage only managed to give viewers a glimpse of its rear end. Winter spent 15 months setting up camera traps in Griffith Park trying to get the perfect shot. He finally caught on in late 2013, and the now iconic P-22 image of him made it into the December 2013 issue of National Geographic. The image and the accompanying story only served to catapult P-22 to higher levels of fame.

Over the next several years, P-22 made headlines multiple times due to his antics. In 2014, he contracted scabies, a parasitic skin disease, after exposure to rat poison. NPS agents later captured P-22 and treated the disease with topical medications and vitamin K injections. The following year, P-22 entered Los Feliz, a neighborhood that borders Griffith Park. The situation caused a media frenzy as local officials tried to find solutions for him to leave. In 2016, P-22 came under scrutiny after the violent death of a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo. Zookeepers discovered parts of the koala about 400 yards from its enclosure, and P-22 was sighted in the area at the time. However, P-22 was never fully implicated in the crime.

Los Angeles mountain lion P-22 treated for mange
P-22 was captured in late March 2014 and treated for mange by the National Park Service.

©Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr – License

P-22: Death

In November 2022, NPS and CDFW agents learned that P-22 had killed a leashed Chihuahua in the Hollywood Hills. The attack shocked both officers and the public, as it represented the first attack on a leashed pet in the Los Angeles area by a mountain lion. Two weeks later, the P-22 attacked another Chihuahua, which managed to escape bloodied but alive thanks to its owner’s interference. Nearby witnesses managed to capture part of both attacks on camera, and various other tracking cameras and video recordings taken in the areas around Griffith Park managed to see him over a three-week period, from mid-November to early December. Such unusual and brazen behavior alerted authorities and gave them reason to believe that something might be wrong with P-22.

December 8ththe2022, the CDFW announced that it intended to capture P-22 to assess his health status. CDFW agents discovered P-22 a few days later in the backyard of a Los Feliz homeowner. After sedating him, agents took him to the Los Angeles Zoo and then to the San Diego Zoo for evaluation and treatment. An initial examination noted that P-22 had a sparse coat, was significantly underweight, and had sustained damage to his right eye, possibly from a motor vehicle crash. Doctors at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park conducted additional tests, which discovered a fractured skull and a herniated abdominal organ on P-22. Additionally, doctors discovered that P-22 had stage 2 kidney failure, heart disease, and a parasitic skin infection. Given the seriousness of these conditions, the authorities decided to euthanize P-22. December 17the2022, at 9:00 am, P-22 was euthanized.

P-22: Legacy

P-22’s death caused great grief among Californians and fans around the world. Local representatives issued statements mourning his passing and praising the attention he brought to conservation efforts. During his lifetime, P-22 inspired several projects, including the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, a pedestrian bridge over Highway 101 that may allow future cougars into Griffith Park without having to take the dangerous crossing attempted by P-22.

P-22 lived in Griffith Park, an area that encompasses just 9 square miles, for nearly a decade. Since the average male mountain lion can control a territory of up to 300 square miles, this represents an incredible example of survival and adaptation. During his 12 years, P-22 probably never mated and, except for a short time after he was born, he never knew the company of other pumas. He lived on an island surrounded by dangers and was forced to eke out a living on a meager plot of land. Despite these obstacles, he managed to prosper, and in doing so, became a legend in folklore.

P-22 thrived in Griffith Park for nearly a decade
Despite many obstacles, P-22 thrived in Griffith Park for nearly a decade, inspiring various conservation projects and becoming a local legend.

©Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr – License

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