Los Angeles’ unique mix of mountains, oceans and deserts can bring residents into close proximity with nature, but the reverse is the case for P-22, a three-year old male mountain lion who found his way to Griffith Park.
Residents near the park have long told stories of big cats in the area, but until a remote-controlled camera got a picture of P-22 in February, there was no definitive proof. Recently, officials trapped the big cat, placed a radio collar on him and ran a preliminary genetic analysis that determined his relation to other big cats in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. National Park Service biologists suspect that to get to Griffith Park, the 140-pound cat would have to have crossed freeways and traversed populated areas.
"The fact that he had to cross over two freeways and probably numerous secondary roads — that's just an amazing feat," said Joanne Moriarty of the National Park Service. "In the last couple of years, we've actually had two mountain lions attempting to cross the 405 freeway, and both of them were hit right on the first side of the freeway they tried to cross."
P-22 is still not fully grown, and wildlife experts believe that although Griffith Park is America’s largest municipal park, its eight square miles do not provide a large enough habitat for an animal of his size.
"One male mountain lion can use almost the entire [Santa Monica] mountain range, so these young lions, when they get to a certain age and feel they need to get out of the male's mountain lion home range, they start looking for new territories," Moriarty explained.
The biologist added that the mountain lion that was shot and killed in Santa Monica late May was probably on the same mission as P-22, but far less lucky.
To find more room to roam, P-22 will have to cross more freeways, putting him in danger of being hit by traffic. But Moriarty said the puma is content where he is for now.
"There's plenty of food there, plenty of deer. But he is about a three-year-old male, and a couple of years here, he is going to start to want finding mates, and that's the point when he's going to start looking for other places to travel to," she continued.
According to Moriarty, patrons of Griffith Park shouldn't worry about P-22 showing his face in public.
"The odds with this animal injuring anybody are extremely low. His behavior has been completely normal, completely what you would expect from a wild, naturally occurring mountain lion. He's been keeping to the natural and wild lands, keeping out of peoples' way. He stays off of trails, out of residential areas, and he will continue to do this," she said.
Other animals have been less secretive than P-22: “Meatball,” aka “Glen Bearian” the black bear, has made several appearances in Glendale and La Crescenta, and has been relocated to remote areas twice since April.
How should the Park Service deal with wildlife like mountain lions and bears in our urban environment? Have you had run-ins with L.A.’s wildlife?
Joanne Moriarty, biologist for the National Park Service