The aging celebrity mountain lion who has emerged from the deep canyons and secluded arroyos of Griffith Park with increasing frequency into the narrow, hilly streets of Silver Lake and the Hollywood Hills will be captured and brought in for a geriatric assessment, wildlife experts announced Thursday.
Late on the night of December 2, the mountain lion attacked and injured a small dog near the Silver Lake Reservoir by latching onto the Chihuahua’s neck before the owner was able to fend him off and rescue his pet; the incident took place less than 20 feet from the man’s front door. A few weeks earlier, a second Chihuahua was attacked and killed by the big cat while the pet was leashed near the Hollywood Hills Reservoir.
Named P-22, the once considered elusive 120-pound feline has in recent months made a bit of a spectacle of himself. Renowned in celebrity-mad Los Angeles as the “Brad Pitt of cougars,” the Hollywood-area urban mountain lion appeared for a once-in-a-lifetime photo taken in front of the iconic Hollywood sign in 2013. Nearly a decade later, he’s become a fixture of Ring-camera screenshots posted on Silver Lake NextDoor, the social networking platform for neighborhoods.
Scientists who have studied the 13 or 14-year-old feline for most of his life were puzzled over his now frequent forays into some of the most densely populated residential neighborhoods of northeast L.A. This has turned to alarm over the past few weeks as his brushes with residents and their pets turned aggressive and deadly.
On Thursday, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service announced they will capture the elderly predator and bring him in for a health evaluation that will “determine the best next steps for the animal while also prioritizing the safety of the surrounding communities.”
Prior to P-22’s highway crossing, the U.S. National Park Service considered Griffith Park an urban island unto itself, rising above the city and surrounded by freeways, it was seen as inhospitable to big cats. P-22 is the only mountain lion to ever safely cross the 101 freeway from the Santa Monica Mountains. Isolated and alone, he is spared the fate common to older cats: killing by larger, younger males.
“This is an unprecedented situation in which a mountain lion has continued to survive in such an urban setting,” reads the announcement from the agencies. “As P-22 has aged, however, the challenges associated with living on an island of habitat seem to be increasing and scientists are noting a recent change in his behavior.”
The evaluation will determine the most humane plan of action options for the lion and the community, Tim Daly, a spokesman for Fish and Wildlife, told LAMag. The two main options will likely be releasing the celebrity cougar into the wild or retiring him to a sanctuary.
“It is not our intention to euthanize P-22,” Daly said. “He is old, and he is showing recently a fair amount of behavior that puts him closer to people and pets, so we want to evaluate his condition.’
P-22’s legendary feats of freeway-crossing and his preference to live near the star-studded Hollywood Hills garnered him some A-list celebrity fans, including natives Leonardo DiCaprio and Billie Eilish. The daring move also inspired a permanent solo exhibit in the L.A. County Natural History Museum while helping to steer millions in funding for the future Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, spanning the Ventura Freeway at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills.
Wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana, of the L.A. County Museum of Natural History, who is the urban carnivore specialist who accidentally “discovered” P-22 more than a decade ago, says P-22 is giving scientists a rare opportunity to study how age and infirmity dictate how an elderly mountain lion adapts to necessity.
“He is an older cat trying to survive,” Ordeñana says. “Although he is still able to take down deer at his old age, it is more risky and costly….There are higher densities of raccoons and smaller prey in urban neighborhoods than in neighboring green open spaces, so he is just doing what he thinks he needs to do, not necessarily what he wants to do.”
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