P-22 fans react to death of LA mountain lion
For a decade, he was perhaps LA’s wildest and most elusive resident. When word broke Saturday that the Mountain Lion P-22 had disappeared, his town swelled with sadness and admiration.
One congressman called him a “beloved mascot.” The biologist who helped him identify him called him an “iconic ambassador for wildlife.” One ordinary citizen tweeted that the 12-year-old bachelor with the mesmerizing eyes was clearly “LA’s coolest cat.”
The city’s lion king had been slowed down by a string of illnesses and was likely hit by a car in recent weeks, a situation that put him in increasingly precarious interactions with people and their pets before he was caught by wildlife officials on Monday . They put him down on Saturday morning.
“While I wish so much he could return to the wild or spend his days in a sanctuary, the decision to euthanize our beloved P-22 is the right one,” wrote Beth Pratt, an official with the National Wildlife Federation, who said one had become the mountain lion’s most vocal advocate. “With these health issues, there could be no peaceful retirement, only a managed existence where we prolonged his suffering – not his, but ours.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose father was a founder of the Mountain Lion Foundation and worked to protect the species, said in a statement that the survival of P-22s “on an island of wilderness in the heart of Los Angeles has helped people around the world.” has intrigued and reinvigorated efforts to protect our diverse native species and ecosystems.”
The governor noted that P-22’s predicament — isolated by freeways in the relatively confined area around Griffith Park — helped prompt state officials to try to prevent other creatures from being cornered by man-made obstacles to be driven. The result will be the world’s largest “wildlife flyover” built over the 101 Freeway near Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills to provide safe passage for mountain lions and other animals.
While messages of sadness came from across the city and around the world, the loss of P-22 felt particularly intimate to people visiting Griffith Park, the nine-square-mile urban oasis where the Puma first appeared in 2012 .
“We loved him,” said Wayne V., a jazz musician and regular hiker at the park, who chose not to give his last name. “It wasn’t just him, it was the idea that he was up here. That will be missing. Bless his heart.”
Joan Fradkin, a conservation consultant who lived in nearby Beachwood Canyon before moving to Santa Barbara, said the P-22’s saga was intended to remind people of the value of living with those around them.
“The lesson I would take away is to learn to live side-by-side with the creatures that were there before you and are here with you now,” Fradkin said. “After all, they were here first. And we are in her room now.”
Luis Caballero from Montebello rode his bike through the park with his Pomeranian Shih Tzu mix Rex in his backpack. He recalled attending the fourth annual P-22 Day Festival in October at the park (“Peace. Love. P-22,” billboards read) to promote efforts to protect Southern California’s endangered species.
Caballero said his dog was startled by the P-22’s life-size posters alone. While Caballero, who works for a kombucha manufacturer, was saddened by the death, he feared that had recent attacks on pets spread to humans, the mountain lion would have met a more inhumane end.
“So this is hard,” Caballero said. “But for now, it’s probably for the best.”
Biologists believe P-22 entered the park in February 2012, after traveling about 20 miles from further west in the Santa Monica Mountains. A survey of wildlife in the park using remote-controlled cameras shortly thereafter revealed an obscure image of the cougar. P-22 was about 2 years old then.
This caught the attention of Steve Winter, known for photographing big cats in jungles and savannas around the world. Winter was obsessed with depicting the plight of a city cat by capturing his image at night against a backdrop of city lights.
Winter and his crew set up several cameras, which were remotely controlled by infrared beams and secured in locked steel boxes. It took 11 months to take a picture of P-22. The shot shows the cougar standing hearty and majestic on a patch of brown earth that appears to be floating above the lights of LA. The photo appeared on page 1 of The Times in October 2013 and made the mountain lion famous. Another winter photo, taken four months later with the illuminated Hollywood sign as the background, cemented P-22’s mystique.
On Saturday, Winter was taking calls from the media and still marveled at a project he called “a miracle from the start.”
“He’s gone now, but his ghost hasn’t gone at all,” said Winter, who spoke to The Times from his home in Hoboken, New Jersey.
“The most fitting memorial for P-22 will be to continue its history,” he said, “so that mountain lions can get back on their feet and thrive.”