Final Words On P-22

We linked to stories about this great cat frequently enough that its demise was sad news. So this requiem is overdue and quite welcome. We rarely have words with no images, but for P-22 it seems like the way to do it (as is the reference to a domestic cat in the author’s life):

Requiem for a Great Cat

The beloved mountain lion P-22 connected humans to feline mysteries.

The citizens of Los Angeles have not forgotten about P-22, the furtively majestic mountain lion of Griffith Park, who died a week before Christmas, at the age of about twelve. A handsome beast with amber eyes and a white muzzle, P-22 was probably born in the Santa Monica Mountains, the coastal range west of L.A. His father was P-1, the first animal to have been tagged in a National Park Service mountain-lion study that began in 2002. (“P” stands for puma; the cats are known variously as pumas, mountain lions, panthers, catamounts, and cougars.) At the age of around one and a half, P-22 made a perilous twenty-mile journey eastward, presumably in search of uncontested territory. He crossed Interstate 405; loped through the hills above Westside L.A.; traversed the 101; and reached a reasonably safe haven in Griffith Park, a forty-two-hundred-acre expanse of urban wilderness northeast of Hollywood. In 2012, the biologist Miguel Ordeñana was reviewing images from a remote camera in the park when he saw, to his amazement, the sturdy hindquarters of a massive feline. There had been occasional puma sightings in the park, but no one had conceived of a big cat residing there full time.

The L.A. Times reported P-22’s existence in 2012, and his rise to fame began. A photographer from National Geographic caught an image of him prowling at night, with the Hollywood sign aglow on the hill above. Two homeowners in Los Feliz, a neighborhood south of Griffith Park, discovered him resting placidly in a crawl space. Dozens of other residents recorded glimpses of P-22 on doorbell cameras. When, in 2016, he became the lead suspect in the death of a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo, a local politician argued that he should be removed, but no action was taken. Instead, the L.A. City Council instituted P-22 Day, which became a yearly celebration in Griffith Park. Songs were written, documentaries filmed, school curricula devised. P-22’s renown crossed the ocean; the Guardian dubbed him the “Brad Pitt of mountain lions,” in reference both to his fetching looks and to his inability to find a mate.

Mountain lions tend not to live much longer than ten years, and toward the end P-22 began exhibiting signs of decline. For a decade, he had been fairly cautious in his movements, but in 2022 he wandered farther afield, showing up south of the Silver Lake Reservoir, more than two miles from the park. Departing from his usual diet—deer were his favorite meal—he stalked and killed a Chihuahua, even though the dog was walking with its owner. A second Chihuahua attack was foiled when the owner fought back. Such behavior was atypical for a cat who had previously avoided humans. Officials elected to capture P-22 and assess his condition. He was tracked to a spot near the Shakespeare Bridge, in Los Feliz. He had recently been struck by a car and was suffering from kidney disease and other ailments. After days of deliberation, the decision was made to euthanize him. Officials broke into tears as they announced the news. His obituary ran on the front page of the L.A. Times, above the fold.

In early February, Beth Pratt, a regional executive director at the National Wildlife Federation, organized a memorial at the Greek Theatre, in Griffith Park. Several thousand people attended, many outfitted in appropriate gear. (I wore a #SaveLACougars T-shirt.) The ceremony ran about as long as the Oscars and included appearances by the d.j. and producer Diplo, who toted a stuffed P-22 toy; the actor and comedian Rainn Wilson, who performed a song that rhymed “22” with “poo”; and Representative Adam Schiff, who proudly identified himself as “P-22’s representative in Congress.” The loveliest tributes came from schoolkids. Nineteen students from San Pascual Elementary School, in Highland Park, offered their own anthem, titled “P-22, We Love You,” accompanying themselves on ukuleles.

Earlier this month, P-22’s remains were buried at an undisclosed location in the Santa Monica Mountains, in a ceremony presided over by Native tribal leaders. City Council members have called for a permanent memorial in Griffith Park, perhaps in the form of a statue. There will be a musical memorial, too. The L.A. Philharmonic has commissioned the composer Adam Schoenberg to write a work in honor of P-22, to be titled “Cool Cat”; it will have its première this summer, at the Hollywood Bowl…

Read the whole requiem here.

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