‘Signs of distress’: beloved P22 mountain lion to be captured after attacking dogs | California

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Los Angeles’s most famous mountain lion, known as P22, will be captured and studied in order to assess his health following recent attacks on two small dogs and close encounters with people near the park he calls home.

Wildlife officials made the announcement on Thursday and said in a statement that, following the evaluation, California department of fish and wildlife veterinarians and National Park Service biologists will determine the best next steps for the animal while also prioritizing the safety of the surrounding communities.

P22 resides in Griffith Park – a 4,000-acre expanse tucked in the Hollywood Hills that is surrounded by roads, highways and homes – and has often been spotted roaming in suburban communities. But the recent attacks appear to indicate the mountain lion may be in “distress”, officials said.

“P22 has been reported near human dwellings close to his habitat in Griffith Park,” they say. “Reports include sightings, video camera recordings and physical encounters with the lion. P-22 is a remarkably old cat in the wild and, after being deemed responsible for killing a leashed pet last month, may be exhibiting signs of distress.”

The cat is believed to have killed a leashed chihuahua mix on an evening walk on 9 November, KTLA reported. The dog walker was unharmed. Another attack left a Chihuahua named Taz injured, but it will recover. Taz’s owner fought with the attacking cat.

P22, sometimes called “the Brad Pitt of mountain lions”, was first spotted in Griffith Park in February 2012 and has since become a local celebrity. His life as a wild creature thriving in a bustling metropolis of cars, concrete and people has inspired murals, songs and even a museum exhibit. Researchers say he has plenty of deer to eat, no male competitors in his territory, but also no hope of finding a mate.

P22 lives in Griffith Park, a 4,000 acre wilderness in the heart of an urban expanse. Photograph: Caroline Brehman/EPA

He’s also past his prime: at 11, he’s the oldest cat in the National Park Service research study. A mountain lion’s normal life span is about 10 years, but they can live for double that time in captivity. And with only 8 sq miles to roam, he has the smallest territory of any known mountain lion (typically a male cat’s territory is 150 sq miles).

The challenges associated with living on his small island of habitat seem to be increasing and scientists are noting a recent change in his behavior, according to the statement. “This is an unprecedented situation in which a mountain lion has continued to survive in such an urban setting.”

P22’s situation underscores the unfortunate consequences of a lack of connectivity for mountain lions and all wildlife, says Beth Pratt, California regional executive director, National Wildlife Federation, who leads the SaveLACougars campaign. “If Griffith Park was connected to other open space, P22 would have options,” she wrote in a statement yesterday. “P22 might not be now traveling so close to the denser human-wildlife interface.”

His future is uncertain, but his legacy is not. P22 was the face of a campaign to raise money and awareness for a huge wildlife bridge built over the 101 freeway, one of California’s busiest thoroughfares, which broke ground earlier this year. At least 25 big cats have been killed on LA’s roads since 2002, and the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing will create safe passage for mountain lions but also lizards, snakes, toads and even insects. While this project won’t benefit P22, there are about a dozen mountain lions in the areas – and it will help them bridge their territories.

“It’s so tough,” Pratt wrote on Twitter on Friday. “He is in such a tough situation and it’s the right choice to take action. But I can’t imagine LA without P22.”

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