P-22: The World’s Most Famous Mountain Lion

“We are so thankful for how he created a better understanding of the coexistence of urban wildlife, humans and L.A.’s biodiversity. His story is a catalyst for change, inspiring conservation efforts, including the 101 freeway wildlife crossing and much more.”

-Miguel Ordenana

In 2012, a biologist’s camera trap in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park caught an unexpected sight. A mountain lion! Griffith Park is akin to Central Park in New York, but a bit more wild. No one expected it could be wild enough to be home to a mountain lion for TEN years.

Moutain Lion
Captive mountain lion at Wildlife Prairie Park

Male mountain lions leave their natal home ranges at about two years of age to seek their own territories. They can roam a great distance in their search (one exceptional lion walked 1500 miles from South Dakota to Connecticut). It’s nature’s way of preventing inbreeding. P-22 is the first in recent times to successfully cross the 405’s twelve lanes of traffic and Highway 101’s ten lanes of traffic to migrate from the Santa Monica mountains into L.A. Other cats have tried only to be struck and killed on the roadways.

Los Angeles area with the Santa Monica Mountains to the west. The red icon indicates Griffith Park.

No one thought he would stay. The biologists clung to every camera trap sighting, fearing it might be the last they’d see of him. Yet, he stayed. He arrived as a two-year-old and coexisted peacefully among people and pets in a park that is just eight square miles. That is less than one-tenth the size of an average male mountain lion’s 100-150 square mile range. He was initially captured and collared in 2012 as the 22nd puma collared by the National Park Service, thus dubbed P-22.

P-22 lived among horseback riders, joggers, dog walkers, athletic fields, a renowned Observatory, and the L.A. Zoo with only a rare direct sighting. Until he fell ill at twelve years old, his only transgression was likely a koala at the zoo. P-22 is the prime suspect in the koala’s disappearance.

Photo of P-22 by Steve Winter for National Geographic

In December 2022, wildlife officials decided to capture P-22 for a full assessment after he had begun wandering into residential neighborhoods and preying on pets. This atypical behavior was alarming, and officials were concerned he might be ill. At twelve, he’s an old lion. A full veterinary exam, blood tests, ultrasound and CT imaging revealed that he had recently been hit by a car. He had damage to one eye and a diaphragmatic hernia (blunt force can cause a hole in the diaphragm allowing the intestines into the chest). He also had liver and kidney disease. It was all too much. He would require surgery to repair the hole in his diaphragm, but he would still be hampered by organ failures that, under the best of circumstances, would prevent him from being re-released. P-22’s team of veterinarians from the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Park made the unanimous, heart-wrenching recommendation for euthanasia. P-22 was so loved in the Los Angeles area that tickets to his Celebration of Life Memorial crashed Ticketmaster and sold out in a matter of hours. The February 4, 2023 event will be live-streamed for all those who can’t attend (details are not yet available).

Miguel Ordenana, the biologist whose camera trap first caught P-22, and members of several local Native tribes brought P-22’s remains to the Los Angeles Nature History Museum. Upon arrival, the Tribal representatives led a blessing ceremony welcoming P-22 back to his homeland where he can be visited by those whose lives he touched and continue to be an ambassador for all wildlife. 

Mountain lions are also known as ghost cats, pumas, cougars, and catamounts. (taken at Wildlife Prairie Park)

P-22 is the world’s most famous mountain lion. He is an ambassador for the species and wildlife living among people. It’s amazing what tolerance, understanding, and coexistence can bring! Here are some resources about P-22 and how you can help mountain lions to thrive peacefully among us.

When Mountain Lions are Neighbors: People and wildlife working it out in California by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom (book)

P-22: The Life & Death of an L.A. Cougar with Miguel Ordeñana & Beth Pratt (podcast)




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2 Replies to “P-22: The World’s Most Famous Mountain Lion”

  1. Thank you for educating us, as always, about this amazing happening between mountain lion P-22 and humans, a zoo and many others in peace. I wonder if he ate some of the dropped or left around human arrays of foods that added to his liver and kidney disease…. A wonderful chance to learn more how to get along with life instead of the array of alternatives.

    1. Mountain lions don’t tend to scavenge human food, they prefer to kill their prey (deer, raccoons, porcupines, rodents, etc). It’s unlikely that he ate human food/garbage. Kidney disease is common in older cats. I suspect that’s what P-22 had – degenerative disease and not infectious or toxic.

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