A famous Los Angeles resident called the “Brad Pitt of the Cougar World,” P-22 made an incredible impact on the world in his lifetime. His name came from being the 22nd Puma in a study by the National Park Service.
In 2013, National Geographic featured the iconic Steve Winter photo of P-22 under the Hollywood sign, taken by a camera trap.
After somehow crossing two major freeways, he settled in the Griffith Park area, sometimes appearing on residents’ security cams. Against all odds, he survived and became a beloved resident without hope of finding a mate, isolated as he was.
Residents hoped they might catch a glimpse of him as he became a Hollywood celebrity and influencer in his own right. It’s touching that so many people wanted this big cat to have a home among them in the big city.
At 12 years old, he was humanely euthanized following injuries, possibly from a vehicle strike. He passed a month after his behavior changed abruptly, and he attacked a leashed chihuahua. He had suffered from significant pre-existing illnesses and weight loss leading up to the incident. In such an “unprecedented situation” and at an advanced age beyond average life expectancy, he was struggling.
He lived in the smallest known home range ever recorded for a male mountain lion. There was no safe way to access more territory on the urban island, but that’s about to change thanks to his life.
Video via ABC7:
How P-22 Changed the World
P-22’s life and passing changed how people think about wildlife and the need to plan spaces and wildlife crossings. Wildlife like Mountain Lions (also called Cougars) need to have room to be wild. Due in part to the iconic lion, a wildlife crossing spanning 10 lanes of Highway 101 began construction. Further, Governor Newsom promised $50 million for similar crossings in California.
The Cougar’s traditional tribal burial in the Santa Monica Mountains was a “historically significant ceremony” which Native American tribal leaders said would “help wildlife officials and scientists realize the importance of being respectful to animals going forward.”
“The death of P-22 has affected all of us, and he will forever be a revered icon and ambassador for wildlife conservation,” stated The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Later, a Celebration of Life at the Greek Theatre on February 4 drew a crowd of thousands. People tuned in virtually across the planet. It may have been the largest public memorial for any animal in history.
Video about the Celebration by KCAL News:
Beth Pratt’s Emotional Eulogy
On P-22’s social media and at the Celebration of Life, Beth Pratt, the California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, spoke and gave an emotional eulogy.
Those in attendance saw a red-tailed hawk fly overhead and call, and a hawk also appeared at the celebration of life when one of the indigenous speakers was presenting. Many saw it as a heartwarming sign.
Pratt says the ceremony gave her “some measure of peace” as she and thousands grieved the loss.
“I can also imagine P-22 at peace now, with such a powerful and caring send-off to the next place,” she wrote. “As we laid him to rest, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead and called loudly, perhaps there to help him on his journey.”
Pratt and groups like the Save LA Cougars campaign tirelessly worked to ensure his protection and the construction of the world’s largest wildlife crossing. It’s the Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which broke ground in the April of 2022.
“We are part of nature, and he reminded us of that.”
Video via Instagram/p22mountainlion
Below you can see a glimpse of the Augmented Reality experience of the project via KTLA 5:
Seeing Wildlife As Neighbors
Pratt, who had the cat’s likeness tattooed on her arm, met him for the first time to say goodbye and tell him she and the world loved him so very much.
“He changed the way we look at L.A. He inspired millions of people to see wildlife as their neighbors. He made us connect more to that wild place in ourselves,” said Pratt.
Although residents of Los Angeles may never see a Mountain Lion on Sunset Boulevard, she says, “what matters is P-22 showed us it’s possible.” It’s also possible to achieve big dreams, like the wildlife crossing below.
Cats Inspiring Change
The wildlife crossing P-22 inspired should be completed sometime in 2025 if it goes according to schedule. Wouldn’t it be amazing if similar crossings became the rule across major highways nationwide? It should be commonplace and would benefit everyone if we decide to value and protect wildlife the way it should be.
Artist and “LA Hope Dealer” Corrie Mattie made giant mural homages to P-22 that read, “Long Live The King” and “Peace, Love & P-22.” The former mural is right around the corner from a similar mural of an iconic cat lover who also changed the world, Betty White. A community celebration took place, which helped raise awareness about saving mountain lions.
Earlier in the year, the artist spotted P-22 a few feet away in the Hollywood Hills, initially thinking it was her brother’s dog. When she went to pick the dog up, she got a big surprise! Now, she has that memory to remember and LA residents have her inspired art to help keep the big cat’s memory alive.
Video about the mural by KTLA5: