Beloved mountain lion P-22 has been euthanized

P-22 in front of the Hollywood Sign in Griffith Park (taken with remote camera). Photo by Steve Winter.

The beloved P-22 mountain lion has been euthanized.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife (CDFW) released a statement last Saturday, Dec. 17, saying the medical team at San Diego Zoo Safari Park had made the decision to do so after a thorough medical evaluation of the celebrity cat. Test results showed significant trauma to his head, right eye and internal organs, indicating he’d been hit by a vehicle and would require invasive surgical repair.

The examination also revealed significant pre-existing illnesses, including irreversible kidney disease, chronic weight loss, extensive parasitic skin infection over his entire body, and localized arthritis; all of which led to the unfortunate deterioration in P-22’s overall condition.

CDFW stated that, due to P-22’s advanced age, combined with chronic, debilitating, life-shortening conditions and the clear need for extensive long-term veterinary intervention, there was “no hope for a positive outcome. His poor condition indicated that he may also have had additional underlying conditions not yet fully characterized by diagnostics.”

The Safari Park wildlife care team consists of six veterinarians with board certification in zoological medicine. In addition, four veterinary specialists with board certifications in ophthalmology, radiology and surgery were consulted.

“Mountain lion P-22 has had an extraordinary life and captured the hearts of the people of Los Angeles and beyond,” CDFW concluded. “The most difficult, but compassionate choice was to respectfully minimize his suffering and stress by humanely ending his journey.”

Born in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu over 12 years ago, and believed to be the son of the original P-1, P-22 went on to become the world’s most famous mountain lion — the poster boy for mountain lions everywhere. His territory included the Hollywood sign, and the nighttime photo of him standing on a hilltop across from that sign became an iconic image representing the ability of urban carnivores to survive in the midst of dense human settlements.

He became LA’s unofficial mascot in 2013 after a National Geographic photographer’s wildlife camera took that photo. He had his own Facebook page with 20,000 followers, artists painted murals of him on city walls, books were written about him, every Oct. 22 an annual P-22 festival was held, and he was the face of the “Save L.A. Cougars” fundraising campaign.

“He was one of the oldest mountain lions in a study that the National Park Service (NPS) has been conducting since 2002, and one of its most interesting,” NPS said in a released statement. “When he was first captured and collared in March 2012 by NPS biologists, he was estimated to be about 2 years old.”

Shortly after being collared, P-22 began to seek his own territory — there apparently wasn’t enough room for him and the already established male pumas in the Santa Monica Mountains, so he made his own path. Against all odds, he managed to cross two deadly 10-lane highways — both the 101 and the 405 — pass through the Hollywood Hills and settle in Griffith Park. His tiny, 9-square-mile home was the smallest home range that has ever been recorded for an adult male mountain lion, according to NPS.

For the most part, P-22 lived happily in his new territory for the next decade. Although there were enough deer and other wild prey for him to live on, there were no females in his new digs, and he got sick for a time after ingesting prey contaminated with rat poison. Biologists trapped him, treated him with topical medications and vitamin K injections, and released him. He miraculously made a full recovery.

Wildlife officials decided to capture the 12-year-old mountain lion after his recent behavior became erratic. He started to venture south into more populated neighborhoods like Silver Lake and stay for increasing periods of time; whereas before, he’d always been leery of busy areas. In November, he killed a leashed Chihuahua in the Hollywood Hills and later attacked another Chihuahua in Silver Lake.

The radio-collared cat was captured Dec. 12 after being located in a Los Feliz backyard. He was given fluids, vitamins, and antibiotics and rested comfortably at a veterinarian’s office. Initial exams showed the cat was in poor shape — significantly underweight with thinning fur.

“Mountain lion P-22 was more than just a celebrity cat. He was also a critical part of a long-term research study and a valuable ambassador for the cause of connectivity and for wildlife in the Santa Monica Mountains and beyond,” the NPS stated, referring in part to the wildlife bridge now being constructed across the 101 freeway at Agoura Hills. “Scientists will be analyzing his data for years to come. He showed us what mountain lions must do to survive in our urban landscape.”