It’s been nearly a year since I wrote about P-22, Los Angeles’s most famous mountain lion living in Griffith Park. First discovered in 2012, he was later captured by the National Park Service, tagged as P-22, fitted with a GPS-collar for monitoring and research purposes, then released. Well, P-22 is back in the news and, this time he is suspected of killing a koala bear at the L.A. Zoo. Although his role in the attack has not been proven, it is not surprising that safety concerns have been raised about his presence in the city.
“This is not a situation where we can get rid of the native wildlife and not expect this to happen again,” Kate Kuykendall of the National Park Service said.
When we first learned of P22’s existence in our local hills, the discovery generated much public excitement, but also fear. Biologists believe P-22 is the only mountain lion currently living in this part of Los Angeles. The big cat’s home range is considerably smaller due to barriers created by our freeways. Scientists surmise he roamed across the Santa Monica Mountains and survived crossing the busy 405 and 101 Freeways to get here. Now he is basically stuck here.
P-22 is adapting to life in an urban center. Except for last year’s incident when he wandered onto the property of a private residence, he remains elusive and few people ever see him. Often referred to as Ghosts of the City, urban carnivores like P-22, coyotes, and bobcats, have learned to live among humans, moving about at night or in the city’s shadows.
Coyotes, which have large and fast growing populations within major U.S. cities, have adapted so well to urban life that they have lost their fear of humans, and move more freely around and within cities than other carnivores. In Chicago, a coyote pair, fitted with cameras on their collars, and their pups are recorded waiting for traffic before successfully crossing a busy road—and doing so without being seen by anyone.
Urban carnivores survive by preying on local wildlife. For P-22 his prey is primarily mule deer, sometimes coyotes and raccoons (rarely koala bears). The biologists who tested P22 after he was collared found evidence that he was weak and ill from rat poison exposure, which he likely consumed from his smaller prey. The larger population of bobcats in Southern California often suffer from mange and death due to the same exposure found in the wildlife food chain. Reports of P-22’s illness raised awareness of the impact on our planet’s diverse populations due to people’s use of poisons. P-22 was again made famous when California regulators and others took action on banning poisons in the state.
This is P23, another Southern California mountain lion, filmed sunbathing near a Malibu backyard.
If he survives life in Los Angeles, biologists expect that P-22 will make his way back to the Santa Monica Mountains in search of a mate. Before he can do that however, he must navigate his way through our streets and again face the challenge of crossing our freeways. By the time he leaves us, we will learn much about him and our local wildlife. We may even learn more about ourselves as a community and the values we place on conservation and co-existing with nonhuman life.