Mountain lion P-22's health much better in latest checkup

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Nearly two years after images of his drooling, mange-ridden face dismayed mountain lion fans around the world, P-22, the male puma living in L.A.'s Griffith Park, is now the picture of health, wildlife officials said Thursday.

Scientists with the National Park Service confirmed the six-year-old cougar has fully recovered from the ravages of mange -- a skin disease that he may have contracted because of ingesting prey laced with rat poison.

A photo of P-22 taken during a check-up from biologists on December 16 show him completely free of mange.

“He’s looking good — nice fat belly, and the skin lesions he had and the scabbing all over his body before are now cleared up, and he’s around 15 pounds heavier than the last time I caught him,” said Jeff Sikich, a biologist for the National Park Service at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Mange is caused by mites and is suspected to be tied to rodenticides, which pass from the corpses of rats and mice up the food chain. P-22 was found to have a cocktail of several rodenticides in his blood during a March 2014 capture. Sikich said blood samples taken during the most recent capture have not yet been analyzed, though it’s likely the compounds still remain in the lion’s habitat.

“Nothing has really changed in his environment, so we think it’s likely that he’s still exposed to these poisons that are out there in the environment,” Sikich said.

That said, P-22’s overall health has clearly improved since Sikich and his team treated him with Selamectin, a parasiticide commonly used to treat mange in dogs and cats.

Sikich said the mountain lion has continued to be able to hunt successfully within the park and its surround areas. In fact, on the day last month that Sikich trapped the lion, he found the scavenged carcasses of both a deer and a coyote. Sikich believes the coyote happened across the deer’s body and made the poor decision of stopping to feed on it when P-22 came back.

“It’s bad luck for the coyote but good luck for a hungry lion,” Sikich said.

Scientists have been tracking P-22 for nearly four years, since the mountain lion made his storied trek from the Santa Monica Mountains to the west and crossed the 405 and 101 Freeways to enter Griffith Park.

The area of the roughly eight-square-mile park is a fraction of what a male mountain lion typically needs for a range, but it has provided both readily available mule deer as well as protection from other male lions.

“Definitely as a young male, it was great for him,” Sikich said. “There seems to be plenty of prey for him, plenty of deer. There’s also no competition, so no adult male that he had to challenge and compete with.”

However, now that P-22 is estimated to be six years old, solidly in middle age, it remains to be seen whether Griffith Park will remain a sanctuary or become more of an isolation cell.

“As an adult male, that desire to mate and pass on his genes — I thought would’ve brought him at least attempt to leave, but only time will tell,” Sikich said. “That’s why we continue to follow him, to see if he does decide to leave, where that location will be. It will help us identify any key habitat corridors in the area.”

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