SoCal Native Americans Urge Tribal Burial for P-22 Cougar in Griffith Park

It’s unclear what the Natural History Museum will do with P-22’s remains, but Native American groups want a ceremony to honor his spirit

A week after P-22—the free-roaming mountain lion who made his home in Griffith Park and became a mascot, symbol, and hero of Los Angeles—was euthanized by wildlife officials, it’s still uncertain what will be done with the beloved cougar’s remains.

Amid fears that the majestic wild cat would not be given a properly respectful send-off, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, which is in possession of the remains, announced  that it is in discussions with Native American communities including descendants and representatives from several Cumash, Gabrieleño/Tongva and Tataviam tribes “to help navigate this unprecedented situation.”

The museum emphasized that physically preserving or exhibiting L.A.’s great puma will not be an option.

“We want to ensure that multiple voices are heard around the respectful consideration of his remains,” the NHMLA tweeted, “which includes the clear confirmation that the museum will NOT taxidermy or display his remains.”

On Friday, NHMLA also met with descendants from the Gabrielino-Shoshone, Akimel O’otham and Luiseño tribes, where their reps “led a blessing ceremony welcoming P-22 back to his homeland.”

The ceremony at the museum, however, did not answer the question of what will finally be done with P-22’s remains, and the Native American groups want him interred in Griffith Park in a burial ceremony that properly honors his spirit.

P-22 was captured earlier this month after attacking two chihuahuas in separate incidents, killing one. While it was initially hoped that L.A.’s hometown panther could be sent to an animal sanctuary, a medical evaluation by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife determined that injuries likely caused by a car strike as well as preexisting, chronic conditions made euthanasia the most humane decision.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, researchers were already in the process of collecting samples and performing a necropsy on the 12 year-old cat when they learned about the concerns from the Native communities. The scientists reasoned that examining P-22’s body would show them the firsthand effects of an urban setting on a mountain lion that managed to survive among people for a decade.

The prospect of P-22’s body becoming a biological sample to be studied and tested indefinitely, however, did not sit well with tribal representatives.

“That’s not our way. That’s a scientific colonial way,” Kimberly Morales Johnson, tribal secretary of the Gabrieleno/Tongva San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians, told the Times. “That cat is a relative to us.”

Native Americans have also learned through hard experience to be wary of researchers who say they have the best intentions when they want to maintain possession of sacred Native property.

Alan Salazar, tribal elder with the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, whose ancestral land includes part of the Santa Monica Mountains, tells the Times, “Almost every university in California has boxes of Native American human remains. Bones, skeletons, skulls that they claim they need to study to learn more. And our answer is always the same: ‘How long do you need?’”

Beth Pratt, a regional executive director in California for the National Wildlife Federation and a P-22 fan, agrees with the Native American community that L.A.’s cougar should be buried in its home at Griffith Park, but also reflects that his body offers a rare opportunity to learn more about the ever-growing phenomena of urban mountain lions.

“I hope discussions and some sort of compromise can be made that allows some of what the museum needs for scientific purposes,” she said, “but ultimately also allow for a respectful burial.”

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