P-22’s Decade in Griffith Park
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
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.
[Remote camera image of P-22. PHOTO: Miguel Ordeñana.]
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.
Listen to Dr. Daniel S. Cooper's Reflections:
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.]
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.
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.
[PHOTO: Steve Winter Photography.]
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.]
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.]
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.
Happy Anniversary P-22! from NWF's Beth Pratt:
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 Ordana along with National Wildlife Federation’s Beth Pratt.
Happy Anniversary P-22! from filmmaker Tony Lee:
[VIDEO: Trailer for The Cat That Changed America, copyright Tony Lee. PHOTO: Miguel Ordana.]
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.]
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.]
Please enjoy this virtual educational session,
Coexisting with Cougars,
from November 22, 2022 and hosted by Beth Pratt, Regional Executive Director of the National Wildlife Federation-California and the Save LA Cougars Campaign. You’ll learn from experts at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, Cougar Conservancy, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. At 1 hour in, recent events are discussed by National Park Service Biologist Jeff Sikich.
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.]
P-22’s Reign — The Final Chapter
For more than a decade, P-22 thrived in Griffith Park mostly undetected. But biologists began to realize something was wrong when, in late fall, 2022, the big cat was seen roaming in nearby Silver Lake — far from his typical home range.
Later reports of a mountain lion attacking a Chihuahua caused concern, but then a big cat approached a human on the street walking his dogs and killed a leashed Chihuahua. This was not typical mountain lion behavior. Wildlife officials needed to capture P-22 for a health assessment.
Sadly, before biologists could capture P-22 for a full health assessment, the big cat ran across a busy Los Feliz street at nighttime and was struck by a car. He was able to scamper off, but was later found and corralled in a backyard by NPS Rangers. After a careful examination, P-22 was discovered to have suffered multiple injuries related to the collision, plus serious health issues typically found in older cats. Realizing he would no longer live a pain-free life due to these injuries, P-22 was compassionately euthanized on December 17, 2022.
[ National Park Service biologists capturing P-22 in December 2022.]
[ P-22: A Celebration of Life event. Friends of Griffith Park president Gerry Hans with State Senator Anthony Portantino (with painting) and with Dr. Dan Cooper.]
In February of 2023, P-22: A Celebration of Life drew thousands into the Greek Theatre to reflect and honor this special mountain lion. Environmentalists, dancers, singers and children took the stage to show their appreciation for what P-22 meant to them.
Eventually P-22’s memory will be immortalized in some form in Griffith Park — murals, statues, etc. Books and songs also will help others to understand the huge impact P-22 made on people’s lives. Perhaps we’ll learn even more about this amazing big cat and his even more amazing journey from Agoura Hills to his home in Griffith Park.
Perhaps P-22 will be best remembered by those who were lucky to live in the years he resided among us — when we hike in his paw prints, following the shadows underbrush where he lingered, and feeling his ghost spirit that still inhabits the wilderness that is Griffith Park.
In 2022, we celebrated 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 the memory of P-22!
[P-22 in February 2021. PHOTO: NPS.]
Questions and Answers About P-22
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.
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