P-22, the famous Griffith Park mountain lion that has captured hearts in Los Angeles and beyond, was euthanized Saturday morning after wildlife experts determined the animal was critically injured and suffering from serious health problems.
“This really hurts,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham said Saturday morning, fighting back tears. “It’s been an incredibly difficult few days, and for myself, I’ve felt the full weight of the city of Los Angeles on my shoulders.”
The severely underweight mountain lion was trapped in the backyard of a home in Los Feliz on Monday, December 12, and was taken to a wildlife care facility for a full health assessment following several recent attacks on domestic dogs, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
P-22 was evaluated by the San Diego Zoo Safari Park animal health team, who underwent a physical exam, organ function tests, and infectious disease screening on the big cat.
They determined that P-22 had sustained traumatic injuries, including fractured skulls, an injured right eye and organs being forced into his chest cavity, said Dr. Hendrik Nollens of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. Officials suspect he was hit by a vehicle sometime on Sunday, December 11.
Tests also showed that P-22 had stage 2 kidney failure and advanced liver disease, and that he may have had heart disease and could be suffering from heart failure, Nollens said.
The decision to compassionately euthanize the cat began to become final late Thursday evening through Friday morning, Bonham said.
“This cascading evidence started to overlay major trauma … and it just created a situation of compounding effects,” he said. “I made the decision that bringing peace now is the right thing to do instead of letting P-22 continue, which would have been unacceptable on a compassionate level in my view.”
P-22’s rise to prominence skyrocketed in 2013 after a now-iconic photo series by National Geographic photographer Steve Winter photographed the big cat in front of the Hollywood sign and dubbed it the “Hollywood Cat.”
But the mountain lion was first identified in 2012 by one of the wildlife cameras from the Griffith Park Connectivity Study.
The park’s conservation efforts had documented wildlife crossing over one of the Hollywood Freeway flybridges at Cahuenga Pass. Scrolling through hundreds of motion-triggered photos, wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana was in awe when he came across images of the then three-year-old mountain lion perched on a rugged ridge just above the Ford Theater.
The discovery of the puma went down in history as the first photographic evidence of a mountain lion roaming the 4,300-acre Griffith Park.
In the years that followed, he became a symbol of the NPS’ wildlife conservation efforts and mountain lion tracking efforts, with books, television series and murals paying tribute to the big cat.
P-22, now one of many in Southern California tracked by National Park Service researchers, usually stuck to its small territory of about six square miles in the park, but gained additional notoriety among wildlife experts after successfully making both to cross both the 405 and the 101 freeways to reach his hiking area.
In 2014, during a return capture to replace the batteries in his GPS tracking collar, the cat was found to be suffering from mange and exposure to poison from eating animals caught in rodent traps. He was treated and returned to Griffith Park where he continued to successfully hunt his natural prey of mule deer, although experts at the time feared he would ever fully recover.
Two years later, he became the prime suspect in the killing of a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo. In recent months, authorities said, he killed a Chihuahua on a leash with its owner near Hollywood Reservoir and reportedly attacked and injured another Chihuahua in Silver Lake.
In a prepared statement Saturday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said: “The survival of P-22s on an island of wilderness in the heart of Los Angeles has captivated people around the world and reinvigorated efforts to protect our diverse native species and ecosystems. The legendary mountain lion’s incredible journey helped usher in a new era of conservation and reconnection with nature, including through the world’s largest wildlife flyover at Liberty Canyon.
“With innovative coalitions and strategies to restore vital habitats statewide, we will continue to work to protect California’s precious natural heritage for generations to come.”
Beth Pratt, California regional director for the National Wildlife Federation, said a memorial to P-22s is planned after the holiday.
Clifford also said P-22 is undergoing a post-mortem, which will contribute to several research studies.