The Hollywood Sign & the World’s Most Famous Cat: Celebrity Mountain Lion P-22 Celebrates 10 Years of Residence in Griffith Park in the Heart of Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA, February 8, 2022 – This week, the world’s most famous cat – Hollywood’s own mountain lion P-22 – will celebrate a decade of stardom roaming in the beautiful great “urban wilderness” of Griffith Park, beneath the world-renowned Hollywood Sign, in the heart of the City of Los Angeles. Friends of Griffith Park (FoGP), the organization that funded the Wildlife Study that “discovered“ P-22 in February 2012, is celebrating the decade anniversary since the mountain lion revealed himself in Griffith Park as a testimony to how humans can successfully coexist with one of nature’s most elusive and elegant creatures.
In celebration, FoGP is rolling out a comprehensive chronicle of P-22’s life in Griffith Park on its website at: https://friendsofgriffithpark.org/p-22/
As an organization dedicated to preserving and protecting Griffith Park’s natural habitat, biodiversity, and historic features, FoGP, in partnership with Cooper Ecological Monitoring, initiated and funded the Griffith Park Wildlife Connectivity Study in 2011. Biologists Dr. Daniel S. Cooper, Miguel Ordeñana and Erin Boydston of the USGS Ecological Research Center conducted the study.
Cameras were placed around Griffith Park as part of the study, which documented wildlife like coyotes, bobcats, mule deer and an occasional gray fox. Reviewing the camera’s SD memory cards was a time-consuming process, so images were not looked at immediately when memory cards were swapped out of the cameras.
Years earlier, there had been a handful of alleged mountain lion sightings in Griffith Park but nothing had been officially documented.
Everything changed during the first week of March 2012 when the SD memory card with the now famous initial image of P-22 was reviewed and the mountain lion of Griffith Park was discovered.
The image’s date and time stamp: “February 12, 2012, 9:15 p.m.”
The photo proved that a mountain lion was living in Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in North America, in the center of Los Angeles.
"P-22's story is legendary because it's a relatable one of survival and resilience. He is an unprecedented case study of puma adaptation to extremely urbanized habitat. None of us expected to find a mountain lion in Griffith Park, which we thought was way too disconnected from the nearest mountain lion populations by freeways and urbanization. We originally assumed maybe he was only passing through, but now 10 years later, it seems that P-22 is here to stay," said Miguel Ordeñana, FoGP Board member and the first biologist to view the image of P-22 from the Study camera.
P-22’s Early Days and Daring Freeway Crossing:
P-22’s life started sometime around 2010 in the Santa Monica Mountains, when a mother puma gave birth to a litter of kittens. To avoid fighting with other males (and maybe even his father) for the same territory, P-22 went off in search of a place to call home most likely about a year after his birth. He embarked on a remarkable 50-mile journey that took him across two major Los Angeles freeways, evading both traffic and human detection. He eventually found the wilderness of Griffith Park to set up his kingdom, which, according to biologists, is probably the smallest roaming territory of any known mountain lion – about 8 square miles. A single male cougar typically has a home range of about 150 square miles. Mountain lions require large habitat areas for their survival. For populations to remain genetically healthy, they need to move between these large natural areas – to mix up their genes.
Now that P-22 was confirmed as a resident of Griffith Park, the National Park Service (NPS), which had instituted a study of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains in 2002, began to ask important questions. How would a big cat adapt to the confines of such a small territory, not to mention living in an area surrounded by millions of people? Or would he turn around and risk another freeway crossing?
NPS biologists Seth Riley and Jeff Sikich caught and tranquilized P-22, collected data (weight, blood, etc.) and fitted him with a collar, which would allow them to track his movements through telemetry technology.
News of a mountain lion in Griffith Park sparked international headlines. Amongst all the media attention, nature photographer Steve Winter arranged to capture P-22 in his new habitat. After 15 months, he was rewarded with the now iconic image of P-22, with the Hollywood Sign behind his shoulders, which graced National Geographic Magazine in December of 2013. The “Ghost Cats” article by Alexa Keefe described the challenges facing these solitary predators, especially those living in and near large urban areas.
Embraced by people all over the world, P-22’s celebrity status has allowed him to significantly impact the future of mountain lions and conservation efforts both in California and worldwide.
In 2014, biologists discovered that P-22 was horribly distressed, his fur matted with mange, scraggly whiskers, scrawny tail and eyes clouded over with exhaustion. He had eaten an animal that had ingested rat poison (rodenticide.) Predators like mountain lions, coyotes and raptors are often inadvertently poisoned and needlessly die from these second-generation poisons. Fortunately, P-22 was treated and survived, but his near death experience as an unintended victim of rodenticide led to a public outcry about the necessity of such readily available poisons. California eventually passed a new law in October of 2020 which eliminates the use of the most potent anticoagulant rodenticides – although other rat poisons are still commercially and professionally available today.
Like other famous celebrities, P-22 has also become symbolic of groundbreaking moments and movements. He has been instrumental in the National Wildlife Federation’s (NWF) campaign to build the Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing, championed by NWF California Director and FoGP Advisory Board Member Beth Pratt. A privately-and-publicly-funded project, the wildlife bridge will be built over the busy 101 Freeway in Southern California, the first one in this region. Many other urban areas have similar vegetated freeway overpasses and underpasses which facilitate safe wildlife movement, aiding with genetic mixing of species and permitting larger territories for animals like mountain lions. Critical to the Santa Monica Mountains’ puma survival, the project, kicked off in 2014, is set to start construction in 2022.
P-22 has even been the subject of a film about his life – the 2017 documentary “The Cat That Changed America”. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles’ P-22 exhibit initiated that same year tells the unlikely story of the world’s most famous mountain lion.
Most days, life for the big cat in Griffith Park is probably peaceful and ordinary, but on occasion, like other celebrities, there is a sighting of P-22. TV news trucks, reporters, cameras, helicopters, spectators and viral videos are all part of this big cat’s not-so-ordinary life in the shadow of the Hollywood Sign. But like a true cat, and a seasoned celebrity, the mountain lion takes it all in stride, simply slipping away from all the fuss under the cloak of darkness. These images are good reminders that P-22 is alive and well.
“We’re honored by P-22’s presence in Griffith Park, now for a full decade!” said FoGP’s President Gerry Hans. “He’s been an inspiration for a better understanding of urban ecology. Many folks were jittery when we first documented the mountain lion in the Study. But P-22 has taught us that wildlife, even top predators, have their place in nature, even alongside the people of this large city,”
For more information and to donate to ongoing efforts to conserve P-22’s home in Griffith Park: https://friendsofgriffithpark.org/p-22/
About Friends of Griffith Park:
Friends of Griffith Park (FoGP) is a California non-profit 501(c) (3) dedicated to preserving and protecting Griffith Park’s natural habitat, biodiversity, and historic features, for current and future generations. FoGP is committed to ensuring that Griffith Park, a public park and Los Angeles’ largest Historic-Cultural Monument, remain open, natural, and free to all residents of Los Angeles.