The mountain lion that changed LA

A eulogy to P-22 with hope that his legacy will ensure more wildlife crossings.

 

P-22 was caught on a trail camera around a week before he was recaptured by biologists in mid-December 2015.

This perspective was originally published by the National Wildlife Federation and is republished here by permission.

I write this eulogy while looking across one of the ten-lane freeways P-22 somehow miraculously crossed in 2012, gazing at a view of his new home, Griffith Park. Burbank Peak and the other hills that mark the terminus of the Santa Monica Mountains emerge from this urban island like sentinels making a last stand against the second largest city in the country. The traffic noise never ceases. Helicopters fly overhead. The lights of the city give the sky no peace.

Yet a mountain lion lived here, right here in Los Angeles.

I can’t finish this sentence without crying because of the past tense. It’s hard to imagine I will be writing about P-22 in the past tense now. 

Biologists and veterinarians with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced today they have made the difficult decision to end P-22’s suffering and help him transition peacefully to the next place. I hope his future is filled with endless forests without a car or road in sight and where deer are plentiful, and I hope he finally finds the mate that his island existence denied him his entire life.

I am so grateful I was given the opportunity to say goodbye to P-22. Although I have advocated for his protection for a decade, we had never met before. I sat near him, looking into his eyes for a few minutes, and told him he was a good boy. I told him how much I loved him. How much the world loved him. And I told him I was so sorry that we did not make the world a safer place for him. I apologized that despite all I and others who cared for him did, we failed him. 

I don’t have any illusion that my presence or words comforted him. And I left with a great sadness I will carry for the rest of my days.

Before I said goodbye, I sat in a conference room with team members from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the team of doctors at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The showed me a video of P-22’s CT scan, images of the results, and my despair grew as they outlined the list of serious health issues they had uncovered from all their testing: stage two kidney failure, a weight of 90 pounds (he normally weighs about 125), head and eye trauma, a hernia causing abdominal organs to fill his chest cavity, an extensive case of demodex gatoi (a parasitic skin infection likely transmitted from domestic cats), heart disease, and more. The most severe injuries resulted from him being hit by a car last week, and I thought of how terrible it was that this cat, who had managed to evade cars for a decade, in his weakened and desperate condition could not avoid the vehicle strike that sealed his fate. 

As the agency folks and veterinarians relayed these sobering facts to me, tissue boxes were passed around the table and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. This team cares just as much for this cat as we all do. They did everything they could for P-22 and deserve our gratitude.

Although I wished so desperately he could be returned to the wild, or live out his days in a sanctuary, the decision to euthanize our beloved P-22 is the right one. With these health issues, there could be no peaceful retirement, only some managed care existence where we prolonged his suffering — not for his benefit, but for ours.

Those of us who have pets know how it feels when we receive news from the veterinarian that we don’t want to hear. As a lifelong dog and cat owner, I have been in this dreadful position too many times. The decision to let them go is never easy, but we as humans have the ability, the responsibility, and the selflessness to show mercy to end the suffering for these beloved family members, a compassionate choice we scarcely have for ourselves.

I look at Griffith Park through the window again and feel the loss so deeply. Whenever I hiked to the Hollywood sign, or strolled down a street in Beachwood Canyon to pick up a sandwich at The Oaks, or walked to my car after a concert at the Greek Theater, the wondrous knowledge that I could encounter P-22 always propelled me into a joyous kind of awe. And I am not alone — his legion of stans hoped for a sight of Hollywood’s most beloved celebrity, the Brad Pitt of the cougar world, on their walks or on their Ring cams, and when he made an appearance, the videos usually went viral. In perhaps the most Hollywood of P-22’s moments, human celebrity Alan Ruck, star of Succession, once reported seeing P-22 from his deck, and shouting at him like a devoted fan would.

We will all be grappling with the loss of P-22 for some time, trying to make sense of a Los Angeles without this magnificent wild creature. I loved P-22 and hold a deep respect for his intrepid spirit, charm and just plain chutzpah. We may never see another mountain lion stroll down Sunset Boulevard or surprise customers outside the Los Feliz Trader Joe’s. But perhaps that doesn’t matter — what matters is P-22 showed us it’s possible. 

He changed us. He changed the way we look at LA. And his influencer status extended around the world, as he inspired millions of people to see wildlife as their neighbors. He made us more human, made us connect more to that wild place in ourselves. We are part of nature and he reminded us of that. Even in the city that gave us Carmeggedon, where we thought wildness had been banished a long time ago, P-22 reminded us it’s still here.

He made us more human, made us connect more to that wild place in ourselves.

His legacy to us, and to his kind will never fade. He ensured a future for the entire population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains by inspiring us to build the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which broke ground this spring. 

P-22 never fully got to be a mountain lion. His whole life, he suffered the consequences of trying to survive in unconnected space, right to the end when being hit by a car led to his tragic end. He showed people around the world that we need to ensure our roads, highways, and communities are better and safer when people and wildlife can freely travel to find food, shelter, and families. The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing would not have been possible without P-22, but the most fitting memorial to P-22 will be how we carry his story forward in the work ahead. One crossing is not enough — we must build more, and we must continue to invest in proactive efforts to protect and conserve wildlife and the habitats they depend on — even in urban areas.

P-22’s journey to and life in Griffith Park was a miracle. It’s my hope that future mountain lions will be able to walk in the steps of P-22 without risking their lives on California’s highways and streets. We owe it to P-22 to build more crossings and connect the habitats where we live now.

Thank you for the gift of knowing you, P-22. I’ll miss you forever. But I will never stop working to honor your legacy, and although we failed you, we can at least partly atone by making the world safer for your kind.

Beth Pratt, author of When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors: People and Wildlife Working It Out in California, serves as the California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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