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'LA's most famous feline,' P-22, gets a special exhibit at the Natural History Museum

If you live in Southern California, you’ve probably heard of P-22, the lone mountain lion roaming the hills of Griffith Park. This puma has beaten the odds again and again, dodging threats ranging from rat poison to busy freeways and along the way achieving a kind of celebrity status.

P-22's unlikely story is now part of an exhibit at the Natural History Museum in L.A.’s Exposition Park. “The Story of P-22, L.A.’s Most Famous Feline” puts the spotlight on one puma's journey to overcome urban obstacles and claim his territory.

It’s a fun exhibit that makes those challenges come alive the moment you walk in. A bird’s eye view of a 10-lane freeway is projected on the floor. The cars whizzing past make you wonder how P-22 successfully crossed both the 101 and 405 freeways. 

After you navigate cars on the freeway projection, you come across other challenges to P-22’s life in the park. The biggest challenge is the small size of his habitat. The tiny exhibit illustrates this literally. You learn that a typical mountain lion’s territory is 200 square miles, but P-22 only has 9 miles surrounded by urban sprawl and the 5, 101 and 134 freeways.

A Griffith Park soundscape from the exhibit gives visitors an idea of what P-22 may hear on a daily basis:

(Credit: Soundscape by Chris Candelaria, NHMLA Media Technician)

Featured videos show P-22 roaming his territory at night or how he was collared with a tracking device. Miguel Ordeñana, Citizen Science Coordinator for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, captured the first images of P-22 in 2012. He was researching urban carnivores and wasn’t with the museum yet. At the opening of the exhibit, he spoke about how the story of P-22 should inspire us to be better stewards of our local ecosystem.

“His story is definitely a cautionary tale about how sensitive and fragile this mountain lion population is,” said Ordeñana. “The fact that he survived them all makes him one very legendary and special cat.”

You can catch Ordeñana talking about his research and citizen science next month during one of NHM’s lectures.

The exhibit is kid-friendly. Children can learn about nature in their backyard and there's plenty to engage them, prompt questions and get their energy out.

The special exhibit opens July 20 and will run for at least six months.