Prime Suspect

Everyone’s favorite mountain lion P-22 was back in the news again and this time it wasn’t for hiding under someone’s house. The feline celebrity and resident of LA’s Griffith Park was simply doing something that comes naturally to him in a not so natural environment.

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Mountain Lion P22 prime suspect in death of the LA Zoos Koala. Image – The Guardian

Last week P-22 made the headlines for being the prime suspect in the death of the LA Zoos 14 year old Koala named Killarney. Sometime during the night of March 2 P-22 scaled the 8 foot high wall of the Zoo and allegedly got into the exhibit killing Killarney. Zoo staff found that she was missing the next day and began the search discovering her body not far from the enclosure. After reviewing security footage they found evidence which indicated a Mountain Lion, namely P-22, was most likely responsible.

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The attack wasn’t recorded although there are photos of P-22, around the Zoo grounds. – Image LA Times

Security footage which monitors outside wildlife showed P-22 has frequented the Zoo before, although they do not know exactly how he is getting in or out. They think he has been taking raccoons on the property as prey and, they know prior to this event P22 had never touched a Zoo animal. While no footage exists of him actually taking Killarney he was seen entering the grounds that night and tracking data from the GPS collar he wears reveals he was in the area however, it remains inconclusive if he was the one actually responsible for killing the Koala. Kate Kuykendall with the National Park Service told Los Angeles ABC7News that “He was in the area, but our GPS points are separated by two hours, so we can’t say for sure.” She also goes on to say that it is possible that a “bobcat or another carnivore may be the culprit.”

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Since the incident the Zoo is taking extra precautions by removing the Koala’s from exhibit and ensuring they are locked up in their night quarters when the Zoo closes. – Image NBC LA

The Zoo is in close proximity to the city’s largest urban park, which has lots of native wildlife including bobcats and coyotes, so P-22 wouldn’t be alone in having frequented the Zoo and surrounding area.

The media ran stories all week-long some more sensational than others and while it is sad that the Koala died, and most will agree it is not pleasant to read about, P-22 should in no way be made out as the bad guy for behaving like a mountain lion. He is after all a wild animal who has learned to co-exist, as best he can, in a densely populated city without incident.

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So far P22 has survived freeways, rat poisoning, urban sprawl and the pressures of an ever-growing human population. P22 – Image – Steve Winter

The majority of the public came to his defense but there were a few, including Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who suggested that P-22 should be “moved to a safer, more remote wild area where he has adequate space to roam without the possibility of human interaction”. Moving a mountain lion is not advisable – it is stressful for the animal and easier said than done. Relocating a cat to a new area can create problems with other mountain lions that may already reside there as they will fight, often to the death, to defend their territory. On the other side, Council member David Ryu acknowledged that while the death of the Koala was unfortunate, moving P-22 should not be an option. “As our City continues to grow, wildlife and humans are increasingly competing for space, resources, and places to call home. Many of these species play a critical role in creating healthier ecosystems that benefit us all.”

Importantly in all of this LA Zoo director John Lewis seems to get it and does not place blame on P-22. In an official statement he said, “there’s a lot of native wildlife in this area. This is their home. So we’ll learn to adapt to P-22 just like he’s learned to adapt to us.” This is actually a good thing, while California mountain lions are specially protected from sport hunting, depredation permits can in some cases be issued to kill cats that are determined to pose an immediate threat to the public. While this was clearly not the situation with P-22 other mountain lions in California without his celebrity status may not be so lucky when they are ‘perceived as a threat’. In 2015 The Mountain Lion Foundation reports that 256 such depredation permits were issued resulting in 107 of the cats being killed.

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For now it seems that P22 is safe, but comfort levels are clearly being tested. – Image National Park Service

Mountain lions like all native wildlife play a valuable role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem, and society must learn not to vilify them for doing exactly what they are supposed to do, the responsibility clearly lies with us to protect ourselves, Zoos, livestock and pets. There is no one perfect solution when it comes co-exiting with wildlife, but if mountain lions are going to survive people must be prepared to utilize the best possible solutions that benefit both humans and animals – whatever they may be.

Wildlife everywhere is suffering from human pressure and while we often point fingers and insist people elsewhere, like Africa, learn to ‘live with and protect’ lions we should be addressing our own practices with wildlife at home. After all we may be guilty of some of the same things we are so quick to accuse others of.

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P22 is doing for Mountain Lions what Elsa the lioness did for African Lions, will his status will be enough to protect him and ultimately his entire species? P22 – Image Griffith Park Trail Cam

Mountain lions in California face many threats from inbreeding, death by vehicles and rat poison as well as habitat loss. The SaveLACougars campaign is trying to raise awareness and funds to build a much-needed wildlife crossing in LA to connect the species to the wild places they need to get to. If you would like to find out more about the campaign and why it is so important to help these big cats, be sure to watch the TEDx event talk given by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation below.

How a Lonely Cougar in Los Angeles Inspired the World.

#SaveLACougars has also launched an official online store where 100% of the proceeds from merchandise purchased goes directly to fund the campaign.
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