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King of the urban jungle: Why P-22 is making Angelenos care about local wildlife

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P-22 is L.A.'s most famous mountain lion. His journey from the Santa Monica mountains to Griffith Park has inspired many and shed a light on L.A.'s wildlife.

A regular day on the job entailed Miguel Ordeñana, a biologist at the Natural History Museum, to look at ... well, a bunch of tail.

"I was going through some footage after a long day in the field. I was very impatient," Ordeñana explained, "because I was tired and going through photo after photo of rabbit and deer butt and coyote butt."

Photo of one of Miguel's wildlife cameras.
KPCC/Lori Galarreta
Photo of one of Miguel's wildlife cameras.

But on that sunny day in February 2012, one of those tails changed everything.

"And out of nowhere ... a massive puma butt comes across my screen."

That was how P-22 was discovered to be living in Griffith Park. His journey to get there consisted of a dangerous 20-mile trek, which started on the western side of the Santa Monica mountains. He crossed two freeways and ended at the almost nine square miles of Griffith Park green space.

In five years, he's gone through a lot. And that journey has transformed him from lonely mountain lion to icon. He has invigorated Angelenos to care about the wildlife around them so much, he's just got his own exhibit at the Natural History Museum.

The luckiest mountain lion ever

To hear P-22's story, one might quickly think, "this is the smartest cat ever." But Ordeñana argues, he's probably the luckiest.

"By far the luckiest ... and resilient individual that I've ever learned about. Because not only did he do that amazing journey, but he also has overcome some other significant obstacles like being exposed to rat poison and mange.

Getting stuck under a house and somehow escaping that with media trucks around the house still. Eating a koala, probably the most loveable animal in the zoo and getting away with that as well."

It's true, P-22 has gone through a lot, but it pales in comparison to what could've been the case. He actually might be a little better off than his counterparts in the west. 

"A lot of people don't know this but a problem for local pumas is them killing each other ... and that's because there's such little habitat to go around. In areas where they live with each other, they're very territorial about their habitat. 

So upcoming males, that are just leaving mom at adult age, which is about one and a half, 2 years old, have two choices which are both difficult: One is to fight that larger male that already owns that territory. And the second option is to run away and find new territory of their own ... which then means they have to cross freeways and residential areas. And obviously P22 chose the second option and he made it. But two other mountain lions tried to make that same journey ... and didn't make it.

P-22's situation is unprecedented. But his uniqueness has put a spotlight on him, and the predicament other wildlife is facing as they try to make a densely urban area home.

No ordinary mountain lion 

While hiking up to one of his most remote cameras, Ordeñana shared that a recent study predicted the extinction of L.A.'s mountain lions in just 50 years if some sort of action wasn't taken. The proposed solution: Build a bridge across the Hollywood freeway.

Miguel Ordeñana and A Martinez hike up to one of Ordeñana's cameras in Griffith Park.
KPCC/Erin Rode
Miguel Ordeñana and A Martinez hike up to one of Ordeñana's cameras in Griffith Park.

It's a possible solution that's received a lot of attention, and that's probably due to P-22's fame.

"He's a huge asset at getting people connected with nature, interested in nature and is hopefully going to be the reason why people are going to decide that they want to build a crossing to save our population." 

Ordeñana is passionate about wildlife and the causes P-22's following has brought to light. But it's also evident, he's passionate about the big cat himself. When A Martinez asked whether he loved the cat, after a quick laugh, he answered.

"To be honest, yes. I don't see him like a pet or anything, but I would definitely be very affected whenever he dies, which is obviously inevitable. And when he was in trouble ... like stuck under that house and getting shot by tennis ball guns ... I was afraid for him. I was very very worried. I couldn't sleep that night. So, in a way, yeah. I'm pretty attached to this individual. " 

And it's probably for that reason Ordeñana feels so strongly about helping P-22 and all the wildlife for which, Ordeñana believes, he is an ambassador.

"L.A. isn't just this place that is for movie stars and traffic and a place that's devoid of nature. It's actually a place a that is extremely important to wildlife and a very special place. We're one of 35 biodiversity hotspots in the world. We're on par with Madagascar as far as the species that live here and nowhere else."

To hear the treacherous hike to the camera and more about P-22's journey and how he's helped bring attention to L.A.'s wildlife issues, click the blue play button above. 

Bonus: How P-22 says 'Hey girl'

When people hear about P-22's story, one of the first things they wonder: Is he lonely? The answer is no. As Ordeñana explained, mountain lions are solitary creatures.

"His urge is to mate. But necessarily to have a companion, that's probably not an issue for him.

But at the same time, recently, I documented video of him calling. And these mountain lions call for a couple reasons. One: it's a territorial thing. And one is to reach a mate and see if a mate is in the area. And for him to do that, four years into being here in Griffith Park means that he hasn't given up hope that another mountain lion will still come in here."

P-22, you hopeless romantic.

See the video of him calling below.

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