P22 – There’s a new Big Cat in Hollywood! 

📸 Miguel Ordenana
Authors: Stefan Hunt & Josh Robertson (08/12/16) 👨‍💻👨‍💻

Picture this - You’re walking through your local park after a long day’s work, it’s a beautiful clear day and you stumble across the resident squirrel and a few feisty ducks. But what’s that in the bushes? Is it a bird? Is it a dog? No, it’s a mountain lion! That’s right, Griffith Park in the centre of the buzzing metropolis that is Los Angeles has a larger and slightly toothier new resident - a MOUNTAIN LION!

 

This individual is known as P22 (Puma-22) and is a 7-year-old male mountain lion (also known as cougars) that made its way across two of the busiest freeways (motorways in the Queen’s English) in America (101 and 405) to arrive at the park. He crossed 20 lanes of traffic, so it’s considered a bit of a miracle he survived.

 

Not only did he pass through some of the most highly populated areas, such as Beverley Hills, this cat came within a literal stones throw (or a lions roar) of the Hollywood walk of fame. Imagine that! There could have been a new ‘cougar’ walking down the boulevards of Los Angeles…

📽️  Sabana Films
📸 Miguel Ordenana

Even more amazingly, no one spotted P22 on his epic journey. In fact, scientists researching Griffith Parks’ wildlife accidently discovered this bizarre new inhabitant after looking through their camera trap photos – probably not what they were expecting.

 

P22 has created such an international interest that Sabana Films decided his amazing story needed to be told to the world. You can now watch this extraordinary journey in a film called ‘The Cat That Changed America”. Director Tony Lee says “the aim of the film was to raise awareness for the plight of mountain lions living in Los Angeles, including the issues of fragmentation and connectivity”. 

📽️ Sabana Films

You’ll be pleased to know that P22 is thriving despite being essentially trapped within the confines of the park. However, the reality of being surrounded by urban sprawl and freeways means he’s isolated and unable to find a mate; maybe he should try tinder, the purrsonal section, there’s cougars everywhere. 

 

The National Park Service is currently studying connectivity and genetic diversity issues concerning the mountain lions of the Santa Monica Mountains and have already caught and radio-collared P22 to follow his movements. Male mountain lions can have territories of over 200 square miles and so researchers believe that P22 was searching for a territory of his own when he stumbled into Griffith Park. 

📸 Sabana Films
📸 Sabana Films

Not all mountain lions are as lucky as Hollywood’s newest star. With their large home ranges and ever shrinking habitat individuals are forced into urban areas and often die on freeways. Another threat comes from rat poisons (rodenticides). Rats eat the poison, racoons and coyotes eat the poisoned rats, and mountain lions eat these racoons and coyotes; the level of poison builds up as you move higher up the food chain (this process is called bioaccumulation) and is bad news for top predators.

 

The spotlight P22 has shone on the rest of his species has had interesting conservation implications. His unique story highlighted how human population expansion and encroachment into wildlife habitat can lead to large predators living on our doorstep. Are we ready for that? Additionally, the story highlights how small fragmented patches can leave populations separated and vulnerable to inbreeding depression and low levels of genetic diversity; in addition to being potential areas of human-wildlife conflict. These issues could lead to the extinction of mountain lions within 50 years.

📽️Griffith Park Trail Cam
📸 Sabana Films

The film raises awareness for the campaign to build a wildlife corridor in Los Angeles over the 101 freeway at Liberty Canyon. This $55million wildlife crossing project would be a huge step towards preventing the loss of this species. The California Director of the National Wildlife Federation, Beth Pratt, is spearheading the Save LA Cougars fundraising campaign to raise the money for the wildlife crossing. The campaign aims to reach its target by 2019 and for the crossing to be completed by 2021. Alongside the wildlife crossing project, Poison Free Malibu, are working to ban rodenticides and raise awareness of the impacts these poisons are having through education programmes.

📸 Sabana Films
📸  Miguel Ordenana

Predators in urban areas are rarely encouraged and are generally persecuted until they become scarce or even eradicated. However, Angelenos appear to have really taken to P22 and this cat has a bigger social media following than most people! Local conservationists, Angelenos and many others are battling to help P22 and the rest of the mountain lions inhabiting the Santa Monica Mountains. 

 

As was the case with Cecil the lion, P22 really caught the attention of the public. These famous wild characters (keystone individuals) can change the perception of people on a large scale. Los Angles is now amongst the few densely-populated areas to have large predators living within its city limits. In India leopards are widely accepted in Mumbai (the world’s 5th largest metropolis), yet are considered man-eaters and are subsequently persecuted in other areas like Maharashtra. Could we begin to see more ‘dangerous animals’ living in close quarters with people in urban areas? Would you tolerate a big cat on your doorstep?

📸 Miguel Ordenana

P22 went on a journey to Hollywood and found fame! Now, hopefully, it will be the catalyst for both change and wildlife conservation, raising awareness for many issues that we face today, including habitat fragmentation, population isolation, and human-wildlife interaction/conflict!

What do you think of the P22 story and the implications for conservation?

Want to learn more? Check these out!

Interesting Articles &Websites

http://www.nwf.org/Save-LA-Cougars/Wildlife-Crossing.aspx - What can I do to help P22 and the mountain lion population? Follow the link to learn more about the work being carried out to build a wildlife crossing over the 101 and to donate the project!

 https://thecatthatchangedamerica.com  - Find out more about Sabana Films documentary on P22 'The Cat That Changed America'. A great blog with some fascinating insight into the process of making this film. 

http://proof.nationalgeographic.com/2013/11/14/a-cougar-ready-for-his-closeup/ -  One for the photographers out there! Great short video and article as Steve Winter talks about photographing P22 for National Geographic. 

https://poisonfreemalibu.org - Support Poison Free Malibu on their mission by signing their petitions. It's a non-profit organisation and is a great resource on the impacts of rat poison. Check it out! 

http://griffithparktrailcam.comFor more photos of Griffith Parks wildlife

http://www.dailynews.com/environment-and-nature/20161203/p-45-cougar-drama-draws-attention-to-proposed-wildlife-freeway-crossing - Some breaking news on the mountain lion front and hopefully good news for P45! 

https://urbanwildlifeweek.funraise.org/#/?_k=2ll7ng - #SaveLACougar

http://www.nwf.org/save-la-cougars/p22-mountain-lion.aspx - More information on P22 from the National Wildlife Federation

https://www.annenberg.org/annenberg-now/national-wildlife-federation-launches-p-22-day-festival-and-urban-wildlife-weekP-22 Day Festival and Urban Wildlife Week

http://www.topangamessenger.com/story_detail.php?ArticleID=8530  - More information on 'The Cat That Changed America'

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© 2016 by Josh Robertson & Stefan Hunt