The reign of Los Angeles’s most famous mountain lion – hailed as an “ambassador for wildlife” in the city – has come to an end, after health and behavioral concerns led to P-22’s euthanization.
The cougar, who became another LA celebrity after making his home in the city a decade ago, “went to sleep” on Saturday morning, according to state wildlife officials.
“This really hurts and I know that,” said an emotional Chuck Bonham, head of the department of fish and wildlife, according to the Los Angeles Times. “For myself, I’ve felt the entire weight of the city of Los Angeles.”
The decision to euthanize P-22 came after he was apparently hit by a car. Subsequent investigations revealed a skull fracture and chronic illnesses, including a skin infection and diseases of the kidneys and liver. “His prognosis was deemed poor,” Bonham said.
The big cat, who lived in Griffith Park and normally hunted deer and coyotes, had also killed a Chihuahua mix who was being walked in the Hollywood Hills in November; this month, he was the suspect in another Chihuahua killing, this time in the Silver Lake neighborhood.
He was captured in a backyard in nearby Los Feliz on 12 December and underwent a CT scan, according to officials, who determined that he would either face euthanasia or confinement in a sanctuary – a difficult prospect for a wild lion. He lived to be roughly 12 years old, older than most wild males of his species.
The California governor, Gavin Newsom, offered a tribute in a testament to the cat’s fame in a Saturday statement: “P-22’s survival on an island of wilderness in the heart of Los Angeles captivated people around the world and revitalized efforts to protect our diverse native species and ecosystems.”
Wildlife authorities say the cougar’s impact will continue to reverberate. He was the face of the campaign to build a wildlife crossing over a Los Angeles-area freeway to give big cats, coyotes, deer and other wildlife a safe path to the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, where they have room to roam.
“He changed the way we look at LA. And his influencer status extended around the world, as he inspired millions of people to see wildlife as their neighbors,” said Beth Pratt, California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, in an emotional eulogy sent to reporters.
Ground was broken this year on the crossing, which will stretch 200ft over US 101 – the busy freeway that P-22 is believed to have crossed to reach Griffith Park from the Santa Monica Mountains, where genetic testing indicates he was born, according to the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County (NHMLAC), where he is the subject of an exhibit.
P-22’s surge to fame began with a picture on a motion-sensing camera in the park in 2012, after which he was captured by local biologists and given a tracking collar. The P in his name stands for puma; he was the 22nd subject of a federal study of the animals.
The cougar was “an iconic ambassador for wildlife in Los Angeles. His passing is a painful moment, but we are so thankful for how he created a better understanding of the coexistence of urban wildlife, humans and LA’s biodiversity,” said Miguel Ordeñana, senior manager of community science at the museums. “His story is a catalyst for change.”
Construction on the bridge is expected to be completed by early 2025.
“P-22’s journey to and life in Griffith Park was a miracle,” Pratt wrote. “It’s my hope that future mountain lions will be able to walk in the steps of P-22 without risking their lives on California’s highways and streets. We owe it to P-22 to build more crossings.”
She added: “We are part of nature and he reminded us of that.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting