Mon. Jul 22nd, 2024

Famed LA cougar gets sendoff by celebs, politicians and thousands of fans at memorial

He was called the King of Griffith Park, the Brad Pitt of cougars and Los Angeles’ mascot.

More than 5,000 people celebrated the life of mountain lion P-22 on Saturday at a legendary amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills where the precocious feline roamed for the past decade.

It was a sendoff fit for his star status, with top wildlife officials, politicians and celebrities feting the cougar who died last month after being struck by a car.

“He was our favorite celebrity neighbor, an occasional troublemaker and a beloved mascot for the city,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) told the crowd. “It was a pleasure being P-22’s representative in Congress. We need to protect more of the public wilderness lands P-22 called home.”

P-22 surveys Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills Steve Winter/National Geographic© Provided by Washington Examiner

Assemblywoman Laura Friedman, who said she was P-22’s state representative, said he was beloved for being “scrappy and sexy, but kind of bad and naughty.”

P-22 was once believed to have attacked a koala in the neighboring Los Angeles Zoo.

The event was nearly four hours long – a mix of music, reflection, education, and urgings by politicians that society needs to do more to save wildlife increasingly intermingled with the populated cities because of shrinking habitats.

P-22 was a reflection of Los Angeles: a quirky story of a mountain lion who defied the odds by crossing two of the nation’s busiest freeways only to live out his years hemmed in by the urban landscape. He never had a mate during his decade of roaming Griffith Park’s 4,200 acres.

A remote camera captures famed cougar P-22 in Griffith Park STEVE WINTER/National Geographic© Provided by Washington Examiner

Only in Los Angeles would residents be delighted by having a wild animal living alongside them, the guests said.

“He’d swing by my place every 2-3 weeks,” reflected local resident Michael McMahan. “We were just two aging bachelors roaming the Hollywood Hills.”

McMahan captured numerous photos of P-22 with an outdoor camera, creating the Facebook page Cougarmagic.

P-22 memorial at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, Feb. 4, 2023 Tori Richards© Provided by Washington Examiner

P-22’s foray into the celebrity world came when National Geographic photographer Steve Winter photographed the cat strolling the mountainside in the glare of the Hollywood lights below. One iconic photo shows the Hollywood sign in the distance.

While Winter said Saturday that it took him 11 months to capture photographs of P-22 with a remote camera, a National Parks Service biologist reflected on how he followed the cat’s movements every day over the past decade because he was wearing a tracking device. P-22 was part of a federal protection program for pumas.

“I captured him seven times [for observation]. Together we played this cat and mouse game,” said NPS biologist Jeff Sikich. “It parroted scenes from Hollywood movies: hanging out under the Hollywood sign; exploring LA mansions, being under pursuit by news crews.”

It was amazing that P-22 lived 10 years among Los Angeles residents, wildlife officials said during the ceremony. He was seen on hundreds of surveillance cameras strolling through neighbors but never harmed any residents.

His tragic story has prompted a public-private partnership to fund the world’s largest wildlife crossing over one of the 10-lane freeways that P-22 managed to traverse.

National Parks Service officials speak at the memorial for P-22, Feb. 4, 2023. Tori Richards© Provided by Washington Examiner

Gov. Gavin Newsom filmed an announcement for the event talking about the success of the project, which broke ground last year. The state allocated $10 million for the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing and will now dedicate another $100 million for additional crossing statewide.

The Annenberg Foundation announced during the ceremony that it has put up another $25 million to jumpstart more projects, with the hope of receiving matching funds.

But while the event had a serious undertone, it also provided upbeat moments as well with music. “The Office” actor Rainn Wilson and hip hop musician Warren Wilson both performed songs that they wrote in P-22’s honor.

“P-22, P-22, you left behind a lot of friends and cougar poo,” Wilson sang.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute came from the descendants of the 1960s pop group the Tokens, who have continued to perform the group’s hits songs under the same name.

They received cheers and a standing ovation for paying their biggest hit — The Lion Sleeps Tonight. source

One night in early October, Cylin Busby and her husband had a celebrity sighting so rare that even the most jaded Angeleno would be starstruck. The couple were pulling into their Los Feliz home after seeing a movie when they spotted what they believed to be the elusive mountain lion bachelor known as P-22, sitting on their front porch. “We didn’t get out of the car,” says the author and screenwriter, whose credits include the holiday movie A Tale of Two Christmases, currently airing on the Hallmark Channel. “He just looked at us and we just looked at him, and we didn’t know what to do.”

As her husband, Damon Ross, who works as a producer at DreamWorks Animation, snapped photos, Busby’s mind raced. “I guess we’re staying in a hotel, because I’m not bothering P-22 tonight,” she remembers thinking. But after a short stalemate, P-22 slunk off into their backyard. “His eyes are very expressive,” Busby tells Vanity Fair of the encounter. “Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing this animal, like my husband does in his movies, but he looked a little sad…. There was a loneliness in his eyes, and that would track with someone who’d been living alone for years. Apex predator of the park, but no mate, no brother, no nothing.”

Busby’s chance encounter with P-22, who rose to fame more than a decade ago when it was discovered that he was living alone in LA’s Griffith Park, took on even greater meaning Saturday when California wildlife officials announced that after capturing and evaluating the big cat, they then euthanized him due to severe medical conditions. “I feel so lucky to have had one of the last positive encounters with P-22,” Busby—who originally spoke to VF by phone last week—emailed after the news broke. “He’ll always be a special part of our life in Los Angeles, and we hope his legacy lives on in the form of continued urban wildlife advocacy.”

Angelenos first learned that a mountain lion lived among them in 2012, when he was spotted on camera in the popular park, where locals take weekend hikes, play rounds of golf, and visit the zoo animals. Though the nearby Santa Monica Mountains are known for their mountain lion population, officials were surprised to discover P-22 so far east, and told the Los Angeles Times of the discovery. To get there, he would have needed to cross two busy freeways. (The P in his name stood for puma, the 22 a reference to his number in a study of the local mountain lion population.)

In the decade after his discovery, P-22 became a mascot of sorts for the city, a charming quirk, a hint of wildness among the steel and glass of the modern manufactured world. Though some experts assumed he would eventually move on to find a mate, as the LA Times noted, he stayed in Griffith Park and nearby Los Feliz, eating wildlife like deer and raccoons and surprising residents when he showed up on their security cameras. In 2013, photographer Steve Winter captured a striking image of P-22 prowling near the Hollywood Sign that appeared in the pages of National Geographic. (He’s currently selling prints of that photo through nonprofit Vital Impacts to support his advocacy organization, Big Cat Voices.) The conservation group National Wildlife Federation holds an annual event, the P-22 Day Festival, to raise awareness about the region’s mountain lion population. P-22’s face became more than just a security camera surprise, a story to tell at a cocktail party—it also became the representative of the NWF’s effort to raise funds for a wildlife crossing bridge that, when it is completed, will stretch above a section of the 101 freeway near the Santa Monica Mountains. “P-22 showed that there’s still a glimmer of hope that there are some patches of habitat large enough where wild things can still exist among humans,” says Jim Williams, author of Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion, adding that his story also showed that “we have a big problem with habitat fragmentation, and we need creative solutions to that.”

P-22 lived alongside his human neighbors for years without incident. But recently he began to exhibit unusual, less charming behavior, including venturing further into the city and reportedly attacking at least two dogs. Earlier this month, wildlife officials said they planned to capture P-22—who wore a tracking collar—to evaluate his health. He was believed to be around 12 years old, which is quite old for a mountain lion in the wild. (According to the NWF, their life expectancy is around 10 years in the wild, 21 in captivity.) After P-22 was brought to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, it was determined that he had several severe injuries, possibly from being hit by a car, as well as chronic illnesses including kidney disease and a parasitic skin infection. In an emotional press conference on Saturday, Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, announced that P-22 had been euthanized. “This really hurts, and I know that,” he said, according to an LA Times report.

After their October encounter with the puma, Busby and Ross googled mountain lion sightings and learned that they are historically a symbol of strength and agility. “It’s just kind of been my motto since I saw him,” she says. “If you’re going to learn a lesson from P-22, maybe that’s it.” The next morning, they discovered that a mural of the big cat’s face had been painted on the exterior of their Silver Lake cycling gym. A few weeks later, they found paw prints on the stairs to their backyard that indicated he may have been back, though they didn’t spot him again before his death. Busby notes that P-22, like herself and countless other Angelenos, was a transplant who did his best making his new surroundings a home. “I think we all look at P-22 as a survivor,” Busby says. “How can you not admire that?”  source

 

 

P22 Articles 

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@MountainLionP22, the cat’s Twitter handle.