P-22, L.A.’s Favorite Free-Roaming Cougar, is Caught: Could Be Killed

Wildlife officials are giving the elderly P-22 a battery of tests to see if he will live out his days in a sanctuary or be euthanized

Los Angeles’ most famous cougar—a loner, dubbed P-22 by conservationists, who braved two freeways to make Griffith Park his home—was captured by National Park Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials in a Los Feliz backyard Monday.

The popular puma was sedated, placed on a blanket fashioned into a sling, and loaded onto a truck to be poked, prodded, and tested. It was an ignoble end to the mountain lion’s 12-year run, during which he lived free, becoming both a mascot and an inspiration to all like-minded Angelenos.

Unfortunately, P- (for Puma) 22 was found to be extremely underweight and had likely been hit by a car, according to wildlife experts who gave him a medical examination Tuesday, the Guardian reports. What’s worse, the mountain lion will never be able to return the wild. In a best case scenario, P-22 will be relocated to a sanctuary. The only other option, the wildlife officials said, is euthanasia.

The big cat’s fate depends largely on what medical tests reveal.

“Nobody is taking that kind of decision lightly,” CDFW Deputy Communications Director Jordan Traverso told reporters Tuesday.

“Everybody understands… the importance of this animal to the community and to California. And so if that kind of decision has to be made, I just want everybody to understand that it’s not something that’s taken lightly. It’s very deeply thought about. And if something like that does happen, we recognize the sadness of it.”

P-22 initially ran afoul of wildlife enforcement when it was implicated in two separate attacks on local dogs. On the night of December 2, P-22 is believed to have pounced on a chihuahua not 20 feet from its owner’s front door. The puma was also fingered in an attack on a canine several weeks earlier, also a chihuahua. That dog did not survive.

Rene Astorga, owner of the injured lapdog, named Tax, recalled his buddy’s brush with death. Astorga and Tax were feet from his door when a large, sinewy animal suddenly fastened its maw around his pet’s neck.

“I thought it was a dog—and it was a huge mountain lion,” Astorga told ABC7. “I saw the [tracking] collar. At that point it was a fight-or-flight instinct. I started punching or kicking—never let go of the leash until finally I felt he was loose. I picked up my dog and ran inside the house.”

Tuesday’s examination also revealed an eye injury, likely related to the car collision. More tests will be run to decide if the cougar sustained any further head trauma, said Deana Clifford, the senior wildlife veterinarian with the department.

A CT scan is slated for later this week to investigate possible chronic health issues. P-22 is 12 years old, while the lifespan of most cougars is ten.

The tests, taken as a whole, will determine if P-22 gets sanctuary or death.

“This is an old cat and old cats get old-cat diseases,” Clifford said. “We’re working through all of those issues and we’ll take a totality of the findings into account to try to make the best decision we can for the cat.”

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