A Year After the Passing of the Iconic Puma of LA’s Hills
by Josh Rosenau
P-22, the mountain lion who lived in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park for nearly a decade and captured the hearts of Angelenos, died one year ago on December 17, 2022.
As a young mountain lion, P-22 made headlines by crossing two of LA’s massive freeways to find his long-time home in Griffith Park. The freeways that slash through patches of forest in LA’s hills challenge all wildlife but create a special problem for mountain lions. One mountain lion usually needs dozens or hundreds of square miles to find prey, to hide and rest, additional room for mates, and to rear cubs.
National Geographic photographer Steve Winters’ iconic photograph of P-22 in front of the Hollywood sign came to symbolize the strength and courage needed to make that long crossing. It cemented the cat as an A-lister and galvanized a movement to save LA’s cougars.
Like many Angelenos, P-22 made do with a tiny home compared to his kin farther afield. The food scene was excellent, providing all the deer he needed. But like many Angelenos, he found the dating pool limited; without another risky freeway trip, no mates were within reach.
He experienced nearly all the dangers threatening the survival of mountain lions: cars, poisons, humans, shrinking habitat and inbreeding.
Cars, in particular, posed a constant threat to his safety and blocked his access to mates. His plight galvanized public support for a massive wildlife crossing across one of LA’s largest freeways.
The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing will serve as a legacy that P-22 leaves to all his relations. It is also a testament to the hard work of legislators, state agencies, philanthropists, and mountain lion advocates nationwide. The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing is already inspiring the construction of more wildlife crossings, particularly in areas where they can help mountain lion populations from becoming genetically isolated. These crossings will help many populations of mountain lions.
Learn more about the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Canyon Crossing: On Crossings
While California had stringent laws to protect carnivores from rodenticides, P-22 needed veterinary care for mange after eating rodenticide-tainted meat. His suffering from rodenticide helped raise the profile of this threat to wildlife and it spurred people to action.
In 2023, wildlife advocates celebrated the passage of Assembly Bill 1322, which expanded the moratorium on rat poison to also include diphacinone, a first-generation anticoagulant rat poison, developed before 1970. This new law, also known as the California Ecosystems Protections Act of 2023, will take effect Jan. 1, 2024.
In addition to his secretive life within busy Griffith Park, P-22 was occasionally sighted lounging on sidewalks or apartment staircases nearby. Such close encounters elsewhere can sometimes lead to uninformed and lethal responses, but luckily, his celebrity and good disposition meant people took those encounters in stride.
His easygoing behavior changed in the last month of his life. He was struck by a car, lost the use of one eye, and suffered other injuries that made it hard to hunt. When he attacked several small dogs, wildlife agencies had little choice but to track him (to a backyard) and take him for veterinary care.
During those last weeks, he was lionized by civic leaders, wildlife advocates, and the citizens of LA. Comedians and screenwriters plotted elaborate heists to spring P-22, while strained public relations with LA’s police and sheriff departments produced calls not to snitch on the cat’s location. After it was determined that euthanasia was the cat’s only option, LA’s elected leaders began plans to memorialize the lion with a statue in Griffith Park.
The loss of mountain lions from wild places hurts us all. As we reflect on P-22’s life, it’s incredible to see just how much he inspired people to take conservation action.
The Mountain Lion Foundation is committed to protecting and preserving the presence of these animals throughout their range and we are grateful to everyone who has been moved by P-22’s story.