Famous Los Angeles puma holes up in residents' crawlspace

The mountain lion brings attention to the role of urban wilds.

 

On Monday night, Beth Pratt, California director for the National Wildlife Federation, took to Twitter with a passion. P-22, the iconic mountain lion that for the last three years has inhabited a large, urban Los Angeles park, had turned up in the crawlspace underneath someone’s house. Authorities were trying to dislodge him with tennis balls and sticks. “The tennis balls didn't work,” she wrote. “How about trying clearing out & giving him some quiet? This cat's been avoiding people for 3 years.” Even worse, a loud media throng had gathered around the home of Jason and Paula Archinaco, where the puma had holed up; Pratt pleaded with the reporters, too. “Media covering #P22 - thank u for the story but can we clear out the scene to give P22 a chance to leave safely?”

Eventually, Pratt got her wish: Marty Wall of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife "made the wisdom call," Pratt says, and established a perimeter around the Archinaco house, hoping the cat would feel safe enough to leave. By mid-morning Tuesday, Jeff Sikich, the National Park Service wildlife biologist who originally collared the lion, confirmed with telemetry that P-22 had headed out of the house and back into the park’s rural interior.

Mountain Lion P-22 caught on remote camera in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of National Park Service
P-22 in Griffith Park, unhidden and caught by a camera trap. Courtesy National Park Service.
Pratt, however, kept tweeting. She didn’t dwell on authorities’ early mistakes, nor did she chide the media, as some other wildlife lovers did, for their ill-considered choice of words. (He’s not "stuck," someone pointed out, he’s hiding.) Instead, she seized upon all that was good about the incident — how P-22’s homestay had refocused the spotlight on his marvelous existence, how the city and community had come out not in fear, but out of genuine curiosity and concern. “Even the home owners,” Pratt says, “were superchill.”


A lot of people, myself included, were worried that P-22 would suffer the fate of the young cougar that curled up in an office courtyard near the coast three years ago and ended up being shot by police. But that would be unthinkable now, Pratt insists. “Everybody wanted the cat to be safe. He is L.A.’s lion! There may have been disagreement about how to get him to safety, but no one there wanted to kill him.”

P-22’s brief hideout has had another positive side for Pratt: It's given another boost to the “Save LA Cougars” campaign she began last year, inspired by a 2012 field trip with Sikich. (“I said, ‘Okay, this is my work for the next decade.’”) The campaign, a collaboration with the National Park Service, CalTrans and local conservation groups, is centered around the effort to build a wildlife overpass at Liberty Canyon, 40 miles west of Griffith Park but in the same range that bisects Los Angeles – the Santa Monica Mountains. The overpass would connect two large parcels of open space under the eight-lane 101 freeway in northwest Los Angeles County, and allow pumas – along with bobcats and raccoons and coyotes and skunks – to migrate out of the coastal Santa Monicas into wildlands to the north. Had P-22, who came out of those western Santa Monicas, had that option, he might be up in the Los Padres National Forest by now, hunting, mating and hiding out far from Hollywood Hills homes.

Pratt's campaign has raised $1 million of the $4 million needed to make the overpass project “shovel ready,” all of it within the last year. And in public relations terms, Save LA Cougars has been a blockbuster. Pratt gets standing-room only audiences for her talks at schools and corporations; hundreds of people show up at weekday rallies. People stop her in the street and ask about the tattoo she had done on her left upper arm, which depicts P-22’s face underneath the Hollywood sign. (“One woman in a business suit came up to me and asked, ‘Is he okay? I hear he had mange.’ ”)

“I’ve worked on conservation projects in Yosemite,” says Pratt, who lives about 30 minutes from the national park. “I worked in Yellowstone for four years. But I’ve never seen anything like the support around getting this crossing for urban cougars. And P-22 is what did it. It was his cat-footed journey across the freeways to get to Griffith Park that captivated people. It’s been L.A.’s redemption.”

Pratt, who got inked after meeting a couple of bison enthusiasts who’d done the same for their animal icon, now believes “urban wildlife is the future,” she says, the last hope for dwindling species. “Creating Yosemites doesn’t work anymore,” she said. “Creating refuges doesn’t work anymore. Animals need connectivity, they need room to grow.” P-22 is a symbol of that, she said, but at six years old, now nearing the end of his natural life, he’s “not a success story. He’s trapped there. He’s never going to have a mate.”

Still, on Monday night, P-22 once again demonstrated the survival skills necessary for a large carnivore to make his home in the urban wilds. “He picked a great couple in a great neighborhood” for his hiding place, Pratt says. “He really is one smart cat.”

Judith Lewis Mernit is a contributing editor of High Country News and is based in Southern CaliforniaCorrection: An earlier version of this story named the National Wildlife Federation as the National Wildlife Foundation. HCN regrets this error.