Community mourns loss of famous P-22 lion

P-22 photo courtesy National Park Service

His voice cracking and fighting back tears, Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, shared news on Saturday that stunned animal lovers far and wide: P-22, the area’s oldest and most well-known mountain lion, was dead.

After being tracked to a home in Los Feliz days earlier, the 12-year-old “King of Griffith Park” as he was affectionately known, was put down the morning of Dec. 17, a sad end to a chapter in the evolving tale of humans’ treatment of animals.

“P-22 had a number of severe injuries and chronic health problems. His prognosis was deemed poor,” Bonham said during a briefing via Zoom. “Based on all of these factors and a unanimous recommendation by the medical team at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, the department approved and this morning P-22 was compassionately euthanized.”

“I’m sure each of you has fallen in love with the animal, like all of us have,” Bonham continued. “This really hurts and I know that. It’s been an incredibly difficult seven days. And for myself, I’ve felt the entire weight of the city of Los Angeles on my shoulders.”

As reported earlier, officials came up with a plan to trap the mountain lion also known as the “Hollywood cat”after the famous photograph of him with the Hollywood sign in the backgroundand give it a health screening. Once P-22 was in the hands of the animal health team, Bonham said, tests showed major trauma consistent with being hit by a car. He also showed signs of mange due to the possible ingestion of rodent poison.

Still, the director said he had moments where hope for the best prevailed; that the animal would be placed in a sanctuary setting where it could thrive in its ill state. But a series of “cascading pieces of evidence” turned the tide.

“And I made the decision that the right thing to do was to bring peace now, rather than have P-22 continue through what would not have been acceptable from a compassionate level in my mind,” Bonham said.

The director hailed the animal health team as well as the people across the region who cared for P-22, and he acknowledged Beth Pratt, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, calling her, “Perhaps the best public parent of P-22 over the years.”

In a eulogy for P-22, Pratt said she was devastated by the news.

“I write this eulogy while looking across one of the 10-lane freeways P-22 somehow miraculously crossed in 2012, gazing at a view of his new home, Griffith Park,” she said in her piece on the federation’s website.

“Burbank Peak and the other hills that mark the terminus of the Santa Monica Mountains emerge from this urban island like sentinels making a last stand against the second largest city in the country. The traffic noise never ceases. Helicopters fly overhead. The lights of the city give the sky no peace. Yet a mountain lion lived here, right here in Los Angeles.

“I can’t finish this sentence without crying because of the past tense. It’s hard to imagine I will be writing about P-22 in the past tense now.”

Pratt said she was allowed to “say goodbye” to P-22, the first time in the decade she has advocated on his behalf that the famous mountain lion and his protector actually met.

“I sat near him, looking into his eyes for a few minutes, and told him he was a good boy. I told him how much I loved him. How much the world loved him. And I told him I was so sorry that we did not make the world a safer place for him. I apologized that despite all I and others who cared for him did, we failed him,” Pratt said.

While some may feel a sense of failure, generations of mountain lions and other animals are expected to benefit from P-22’s legacy thanks to the new crossing being built just for them over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills. Set for a 2025 opening, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing is intended to reconnect natural habitat sliced by a major freeway.

Miguel Ordeñana, senior manager of Community Science for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the person who first spotted P-22 in 2012 in Griffith Park as part of the Griffith Park Connectivity Study, issued a statement regarding the animal.

“On behalf of everyone at (the museum), we are very saddened by the loss of P-22, an iconic ambassador for wildlife in Los Angeles,” Ordeñana said.

“His passing is a painful moment, but we are so thankful for how he created a better understanding of the coexistence of urban wildlife, humans and L.A.’s biodiversity. His story is a catalyst for change, inspiring conservation efforts, including the 101 freeway wildlife crossing and much more. Even in his death, P-22 continues to inspire L.A. to embrace urban wildlife conservation and the nature that surrounds us.”

The museum, Ordeñana said, will continue to share P-22’s story, “and honor and preserve his legacy for generations to come.”

P-22’s final resting place will be at the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park, in Los Angeles.

Follow Scott Steepleton on Twitter @scottsteepleton.