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P-22’s Decade in Griffith Park

On this page:   LIFE AND TIMES OF P22  |  Q & A ABOUT P-22

We compiled some memorable moments in the last 10 years of the life of mountain lion P-22 in the urban wilderness of Griffith Park. Whether you are a student, a teacher, a nature lover, a hiker or an Angeleno, we hope everyone knows how lucky we are to appreciate the remarkable creature in our midst – and his story is not over yet! We’ve added some online resources so you can further explore not just P-22’s life but learn about the challenges mountain lions face everywhere.

The Life and Times of a Griffith Park Mountain Lion

P-22-Timeline

Sometime around 2010, in a hidden corner of the Santa Monica Mountains, a mother puma gave birth to a litter of kittens. As she was licking and grooming these little balls of fur, little did she know that one of her offspring would grow up to be arguably the most famous mountain lion of all time – P-22. [Learn more about P-22’s name here.]

Mountain lion kittens typically stay with their mother for about a year – eating, growing, playing and learning what it takes to be a top predator. As you see in this video of mountain lion kittens – NOT P-22 – young cats have dark spots and stripes. These markings help camouflage the youngsters especially when mom is out catching food and the kittens are left alone. But there is a moment in their young adult lives when mom cuts the ties and sends her offspring on their way, to carve out a hunting territory for themselves, a place where a male mountain lion will be the Only Big Cat Around.

[Video of P-48, P-49, P-50, P-51 and P-52 found in the Santa Susana Mountains above San Fernando valley in 2016. PHOTO: NPS.]

A single male cougar typically has a home range of about 150 square miles, whereas female ranges are about a third of that size and overlap other territories. Mountain lions require large habitat areas for their survival. For populations to remain genetically healthy, they need to move between these large natural areas – to mix up their genes.

To avoid fighting with other males (and maybe even his father) for the same territory, this young cat went off in search of a place he could call home. He embarked on a remarkable 50-mile journey that took him across two major Los Angeles freeways, evading both traffic and human detection. He eventually found the wilderness of Griffith Park to set up his kingdom, which, according to biologists, is probably the smallest roaming territory of any known mountain lion – about 8 square miles.

As luck would have it, Friends of Griffith Park and Cooper Ecological Monitoring had started the Griffith Park Wildlife Connectivity Study in 2011. The study was conducted by biologists (see photo, from left) Dr. Daniel S. Cooper, Miguel Ordeñana and Erin Boydston of the USGS Ecological Research Center.

Dan_Cooper-Miguel_Ordenana-Erin_Boydston

[Remote camera image of P-22. PHOTO: Miguel Ordeñana.]
National Park Service P22 image in 2014

Cameras placed around the Park documented wildlife such as coyotes, bobcats, mule deer and an occasional gray fox. Reviewing the camera’s Secure Digital (SD) memory cards was a lengthy process and so images were not looked at immediately when memory cards were swapped out on the cameras.

Years earlier, there had been a handful of alleged mountain lion sightings in the Park reported to both FoGP’s Gerry Hans and Park Ranger Albert Torres. In fact, L.A. City’s Department of Recreation and Parks (RAP) had posted mountain lion warning signs for hikers in 2004 and 2005 based on credible reports from both equestrians and the groundskeeper at the Hollywoodland Girls Camp which is located on the west side of the Park. Up until that time, a sighting had not been officially documented.

P-22 Griffith Park Connectivity Study

It was the first week of March when the SD memory card with the now famous first image of P-22 was reviewed and the mountain lion of Griffith Park was discovered.

The date and time stamp: “February 12, 2012, 9:15 p.m.”

Here was proof. A mountain lion in Griffith Park.

It was well-known that in 2002 the National Park Service (NPS) had instituted a study of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. They would not have expected to add to their study a mountain lion from Griffith Park, the eastern-most terminus of the Santa Monica Mountain Range!

The big questions they pondered: how would a big cat adapt to the confines of such a small territory, not to mention living in an area surrounded by millions of people? Or would he turn around and risk another freeway crossing?

[Mountain Lion Home Ranges. PHOTO: NPS.]
Los Angeles Habitat Map: NPS
SANTA-MONICA-MOUNTAINS-NATIONAL-RECREATION-AREA-P22

NPS biologists Seth Riley and Jeff Sikich were called to locate and trap the cat – a process that took a couple weeks. Once they caught and tranquilized P-22, the biologists collected data (weight, blood, etc.) and fitted him with a collar, which would allow them to track the lion’s movements through telemetry technology.

 

[P-22 with biologist Jeff Sikich. P-22’s “work-up” includes adjusting his collar and replacing batteries, recording his measurements, checking his teeth and drawing blood samples. PHOTO: NPS.]

The news of a mountain lion in the Park made headlines the world over. His story was splashed in numerous publications and online reports and featured in television and radio segments.

Hollywood_Cougar-Steve_Winter

Amongst all the media attention, nature photographer Steve Winter endeavored to photograph P-22 in his new habitat. After 15 months, he was rewarded with the now iconic image of P-22 which appeared in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic Magazine. The accompanying “Ghost Cats” article by Alexa Keefe described the challenges facing these solitary predators, especially those living in and near large urban areas.

P-22 was in the limelight the following year in 2014 when biologists, as part of a routine collar swap out, discovered him horribly distressed, fur matted with mange, scraggly whiskers, scrawny tail and eyes clouded over with exhaustion. He was sick. He had eaten an animal – coyote? skunk? rat? – that had ingested rat poison (rodenticide). So often predators like mountain lions, coyotes and raptors are inadvertently poisoned and needlessly die from anticoagulant poisons.

Acting quickly, the biologists brought P-22 into their care where he was treated with Vitamin K and topicals that countered the effects of the rat poison. P-22 was released back into his home turf, and soon he was photographed looking as handsome and sleek as ever.

[P-22 with mange, before and after. PHOTO: NPS.]
p22-care

The upside of having P-22 being an unknowing – but surviving – victim of rodenticide led to a public outcry about the necessity of such readily available poisons. California eventually passed into law Bill AB 1788 in October of 2020 which eliminates the use of the most lethal anticoagulant rodenticides – although some rat poisons are still commercially and professionally available today. In fact, the specific rodenticide that P-22 ingested is still legally used today!

Most days, life for the big cat in Griffith Park is probably peaceful and ordinary, but it was far from that on April 13, 2015 when he was found snoozing in the crawl space under a house. The surprised contractor was overwhelmed by the sight of P-22 – soon television news cameras, trucks and helicopters descended into the typically quiet Los Feliz neighborhood.

Many methods were used in an attempt to get P-22 to move out (such as throwing tennis balls and bean bags and making loud noises) but in the end, after the news spotlights were turned off and the trucks packed up, the mountain lion quietly slipped away under the cloak of darkness. Like a true cat.

[VIDEO: NBC Los Angeles.]

And like a true predator, P-22 was the prime suspect when in 2016 a 14-year-old female koala at the L.A. Zoo went missing on March 3. Staff officials went in search of the koala and found only parts – and surmised the big cat jumped the 15-foot wall to nab a meal. Up until that time, some zoo animals were allowed to roam outside of their nighttime sheltered quarters, a policy that changed when officials realized that some of their creatures could be appealing to a mountain lion. The Zoo, which could have called for P-22’s capture and demise, was applauded for understanding the importance of the big cat in the Park.

Among the many organizations championing the cause of mountain lions, the National Wildlife Federation found P-22 to be the perfect “spokes-cat” for their Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing, a privately-and-publicly-funded wildlife bridge to be built over the busy 101 Freeway. Many other urban areas have similar vegetated freeway overpasses and underpasses which help wildlife move safely between environments, aiding with genetic mixing of species and permitting larger territories for animals like mountain lions.

[P-22, shortly before being sedated during his first capture in March of 2012. PHOTO: NPS.]
National Park Service P22 2012
Los Angeles Habitat Map: NPS

In this case, the Liberty Canyon crossing will keep the Santa Monica Mountains genetically connected to the Simi Hills, Santa Susana Mountains, and to the larger ecosystem of the Sierra Madre Range further to the north. It’s critical to the Santa Monica Mountains’ puma survival. The project, kicked off in 2014, is set to start construction in 2022.

[P-22’s home range compared to other mountain lion ranges in the area. PHOTO: NPS.]

In October of 2016, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) organized Urban Wildlife Week culminating in P-22 Day, a festival in Griffith Park with music, games, art, booths, food and fun. Each year, NWF California Director Beth Pratt leads a crew of hikers who retrace – as much as they are able – P-22’s journey from the Western Santa Monica Mountains into Griffith Park.

National Wildlife Federation’s Beth Pratt and FoGP’s Gerry Hans at 1st Annual P-22 Day in 2016

Beth Pratt shows off size of cage used to capture P-22 (2016)

From left: FoGP board members Marian Dodge and Dora Herrera, California State Representative Anthony Portantino, Kathryn Louyse, Lucy Gonzalez and Mary Button (2017)

From left: Poison Free Malibu’s Joel Schulman, Dora Herrera, David Ryu (former CD4 councilmember), Laura Howe, Marian Dodge, Lucy Gonzalez, Ranger Kate Kuykendall and LA Raptor Study Coordinator Courtney McCammon are joined by Dominie Apeles (2017)

From left: Ron Brusha, Clare Darden (Griffith J. Griffith Charitable Trust) join FoGP’s Carol Brusha and Al Moggia (2017)

State Senator Anthony Portantino joins FoGP president, Gerry Hans (2017)

Celebrating the 2nd Annual P-22 Day (2017)

FoGP Boardmembers Richard Stanley, Al Moggia and Felix Martinez chat while Ron Brusha checks the exhibit (2017)

Hikers coming into the event are joined by kids from various area schools

Let the festivities begin at the 3rd Annual P-22 Day (2018)

One young artist proudly shows off her decorated P-22 vest (2018)

Two of the many kids sporting P-22 face-paintings (2018)

CD-5’s Paul Koretz gives remarks at the opening (2018)

The Griffith Charitable Trust’s Mike Eberts and Clare Darden join FoGP members Mary Button, Marian Dodge, Gerry Hans and Kathryn Louyse (in front) at the FoGP booth (2019)

Kids old and young flocked to the Narrated Objects booth to color P-22 illustrations (2019)

Seamus Garrity from State Assemblymember Laura Friedman’s office offers a few remarks (2019)

NPS’ Seth Riley converses with Marian Dodge and Gerry Hans (2019)

In 2019 Gerry Hans highlights the Animal Legal Defense Fund-designed poster in support of AB 1788

Beth Pratt and the team get ready to go live for the 4th Annual P-22 hybrid event (2020)

Beth Pratt and Gerry Hans after the hike (2020)

NHM’s Miguel Ordeñana and daughter pose with P-22 poster (2020)

After the hike, folks get ready to celebrate another hybrid P-22 event (2021)

Gerry Hans and Beth Pratt show off their P-22 t-shirts and Beth’s tattoo (2021)

A very enthusiastic group fresh off the hike marches down to open the festivities (2021)

National Wildlife Foundation’s Beth Pratt at the Natural History Museum of LA County. (2021)

The story of P-22 became the subject of filmmaker Tony Lee’s 2017 documentary The Cat That Changed America, which included interviews with key human players such as FoGP’s Gerry Hans and Miguel Ordeñana along with National Wildlife Federation’s Beth Pratt.

[VIDEO: Trailer for The Cat That Changed America, copyright Tony Lee. PHOTO: Miguel Ordeñana.]

Also in 2017, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles created a P-22 exhibit that features interactive displays, photos, video interviews and hands-on experiences that tells his story in a fun way for families and children.

[PHOTO: Courtesy of the Natural History Museum of LA County.]
P22_Natural_History_Museum-Exhibit
P-22 Coloring/Activity Book

In 2017, the We ♥ P-22 Coloring + Activity Book debuted with 138 pages of educational stories, puzzles, original artwork and a fold-out board game. The book, featuring the talents of more than 50 emerging and established artists and writers, was spearheaded by local publisher Narrated Objects and was funded by numerous supporters and grants from the Center for Cultural Innovation, the LA City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Awesome Foundation.

[ We Heart P-22 Coloring + Activity Book cover. PHOTO: Narrated Objects.]

Over the years, residents on the outskirts of Griffith Park have captured videos of the mountain lion roaming the streets and scaling walls. Picked up by the media, these images are good reminders that P-22 is alive and well.

[January 2022 Ring video of P-22. VIDEO: courtesy of Leilani Fideler.]
Mural

Artist Jonathan Martinez has created two murals depicting P-22. In 2020 he painted homage to the big cat at Esperanza Elementary School, and in 2021 he unveiled a mural in Watts of the famous mountain lion surrounded by migrating monarch butterflies.

[ Celebrating P-22 in Watts:  3rd Rock Hip Hop’s Rhonda Phillips (left), Warren Dickson (middle-left), and Archie E. Hill (right) join Muralist Jonathan Martinez (middle-right) at mural unveiling. PHOTO: Los Angeles Sentinel.]

In 2022, we celebrate ten years of discovering P-22 in our midst. Embraced by people all over the world, he is living proof that humans can coexist with one of nature’s most elusive and elegant creatures.

Long Live P-22!

National Park Service P-22 2021
[P-22 in February 2021. PHOTO: NPS.]

Questions and Answers About P-22

Why all the Ps and numbers?

Well, P stands for puma and the number corresponds to the individual cat that is part of a scientific study by National Park Service biologists who are researching mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. The study started in 2002 and continues today.

Read more about this NPS study

Why so many names for this animal?

These cats have about 40 names in the English language, including panther, puma, cougar, catamount, painter, mountain screamer, red tiger, Mexican lion and American lion. Most scientists prefer to call these cats “pumas” which is the name the Incas gave this cat in their language. Early Spanish explorers called it leon (lion) and gate monte (cat of the mountain) which is how we get mountain lion.

To get super technical, mountain lions and cougars are two different sub-species: mountain lions belong to the North America sub-species while cougars inhabit South America.

What about P-22’s collar? Isn’t it heavy?

P-22’s collar weighs about a pound and while it may look bulky, it really doesn’t interfere with his ability to jump, pounce and move effortlessly through the Park. His collar is monitored for battery use and is typically replaced about every 22 months. Even though he is monitored by the NPS, his exact location is always a bit of a mystery. Biologists get one GPS beep during the day and seven during the dark hours when P-22 is up and moving.

P22_Natural_History_Museum-Exhibit_collar

Natural History Museum Exhibit collar

What does P-22 eat?

Usually it’s deer – which is a good thing since there is an abundance of deer grazing in the fields of Griffith Park. One deer can sustain P-22 for about one week. After the animal is killed and P-22 has eaten his fill, he will then cover up the remaining carcass with sticks and dirt so he can return later for seconds and thirds. By covering the carcass, he protects it from coyotes and other hungry mouths. In addition to eating deer, mountain lions have been known to snack on other small mammals like coyotes, possums, raccoons, lizards and more.

NPS-P22-2014-eating

[P-22 eating deer, November 2014 (image via remote camera). PHOTO: NPS.]
Why can’t P-22 be moved? Isn’t he lonely for a mate? Why can’t you bring one to him?

Mountain lions are very territorial; if P-22 was moved into another male lion’s turf, there would more than likely be a fight to the death. P-22 has settled in the Park and it seems this is where he wants to be. And while he may be lonely for a mate, to bring a female lion into his already-small territory ultimately would be disruptive to both cats and could create unnecessary conflict.

Should I be scared of P-22 if I come into Griffith Park?

You should always be alert and aware while hiking, biking or traveling in natural areas of Griffith Park. In the 10 years since P-22 has been living in the Park, only a handful of people have been lucky enough to catch a mere glimpse of him. He sleeps during the day and is more active at nighttime. He does not want to be seen and does not want to interfere with humans.

What should I do if I encounter P-22 – or any other mountain lion?

Be still and don’t make any sudden movements. If you run, the animal will assume you are prey and may take to the chase. Hold your ground and always keep your eyes on the cat. Step back slowly. Speak slowly and LOUDLY. Be big and intimidating. Make sure the lion has a way of escaping you.

Caution sign

 

 

How long will P-22 live?

Mountain lions can live up to 8-13 years in the wild and about 21 years in captivity. The big question is since P-22 has no competition for food and is “encaged” in Griffith Park, should we consider him wild or captive or a mixture? Currently between 11-12 years old, P-22 may become one of the “older” cats living in Southern California.

Is P-22 on social media?

Yes, P-22 DOES have Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, thanks to Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation. Click on icons to visit each account!

Twitter Icon Facebook Icon Instagram Icon

P22-on-Facebook

What does a mountain lion sound like?
Hear a cougar growling:

And a cougar snarling:

And young cougars purring:

How can I help mountain lions like P-22?

Here’s two things you can do:

1. Support the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Bridge, now named the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing after a generous donation by the Annenberg Foundation. The crossing will increase habitat for mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains allowing for more genetic diversity and less wildlife deaths from traffic collisions. The bridge is slated to start construction this year!

Donate to Save LA Cougars

2. Don’t use rodenticides. Avoid the urge to get rid of a problem with a chemical. Poison moves up the food chain and that rat you are targeting could be eaten by a larger animal, maybe a hawk or a bobcat or coyote or mountain lion.

Read about alternative ways of dealing with rats

Hollywood_Cougar-Steve_Winter

Credits

Photo credits: National Park Service, Miguel Ordeñana
Header and Footer photo credit: Steve Winter Photography
Scientific consultants: Dr. Daniel S. Cooper, Gerry Hans, Seth Riley, Jeff Sikich
Writer: Brenda Rees
Web design/dev: Zumwinkle.com

 

Thanks

FoGP acknowledges the staff of LA Recreation and Parks Department who have allowed us to conduct science work within Griffith Park throughout the years; we are thankful for their support.

Show your support of urban wildlife in Los Angeles.

Donate to Friends of Griffith Park.

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