The Watcher

Wonderful video of a peaceful encounter between Photographer Jay Staton and a highly endangered Florida panther. While negative and scary headlines sell, don’t believe all the media hype surrounding these animals who are curious and shy by nature. Given space and respect they will choose to stay clear of humans. There are many reasons to share this, including the fact that the species is in desperate need of honest and positive publicity, which this footage provides.

Florida panthers face multiple pressures – from vehicles, human development and major habitat loss which means time is running out to save them. Jay is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to replace custom camera traps, that were destroyed during hurricane Irma, so he can continue to document these amazing animals and tell their story. Please consider sharing with friends and family in Florida and others who wish to see the Florida panther have a much deserved chance of survival.

“I was kneeling at a pool of water filming walking catfish in a ditch in Fakahatchee. I positioned my GoPro camera under water pointing up so I could get the fish swimming above the camera. I walked to the other side of the pool to scare the catfish to swim over my camera. I walked back around to my camera to change its direction. But before I walked back to the other side, I noticed a panther also in the ditch less than 20 feet from me. I grabbed the GoPro camera from the water and pointed it in the direction of the panther. It was set on wide angle so the panther looks further away than 20 feet. I slowly got out of the ditch and walked to my car, some 30 feet away, to retrieve my video camera. When I got back the panther was no longer where I had seen him, but instead he was sitting right where I was kneeling at the water’s edge filming catfish. I set up the tripod and pushed record on my video camera. I walked back to my car calmly, 30 feet away (you can hear my footsteps in the video) to get my picture camera. The video footage shows the panther watched me walk back to my car. I slowly returned to my video camera and took 5 or 6 pictures of the panther. I had a 300mm lens on my full frame camera and the panther was too close to get all of it in frame, so I took parts of the panther to stitch the images together later in Photoshop. The panther decided at that point to leave. I was still trying to take a couple pictures, so I didn’t pan the video camera to follow him quick enough.”  – Via Jay Staton on YouTube:

Changing Hearts and Minds

Los Angeles’ famous feline resident and star of the documentary The Cat That Changed America has managed to captivate people on both a local and international level like no mountain lion before. Driven by instinct and perhaps fate, P-22 navigated deadly traffic and took up residence in Griffith Park where he remains surrounded by highways, urban sprawl and people. Essentially his ‘trapped’ existence has become a stark reminder of why there is an urgent need to ensure proper habitat connectivity for wildlife.

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P-22 makes a rare daylight appearance in Griffith Park. Instagram © Miguel Ordenana @ordenana4 August 2017

P-22 has become both legend and hero to a community now passionately working to ensure that all mountain lions in California have a future where they can exist and thrive. His story is an inspirational and compelling example of co-existence and, his documentary is set to change the hearts and minds of all those who see it.

After six months on the film circuit, Director Tony Lee is back to answer a few questions on the positive impact his film is having and the importance of its next screening.

The Cat That Changed America premiered earlier this year and has had various public screenings in and around L.A., what has the audience reception been like so far?

The audience reception has been tremendous and people have really embraced this film. The film has been shown at the Old Summer Cinema in Pasadena, the Green Screens festival in UCLA, and is due to be shown at the DTLA Film Festival at the end of September and the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in New York City in October. We have also had sponsored screenings in Ojai, Oak Park and the Natural History Museum of L.A. County. Everyone wants to find out more about P-22.

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The L.A. Premiere of The Cat That Changed America March 16th at the UCLA James Bridges Theater

The most recent screening of the film in Hollywood included a panel discussion, what are the benefits of having one coincide with a screening?

It really gives an interactive experience so people can watch the movie and then ask questions about P-22. They also have the chance to have their photograph taken with his cardboard cutout which is always popular. By attending the screening they have a chance to speak to the cast about the building of the wildlife crossing and also the widespread impact of rodenticides (rat poison) upon our wildlife.

In addition to raising awareness for the wildlife crossing, what else do you see the film accomplishing?

A big part of the film is the issue of rat poisons as P-22 himself was effected when he had eaten too many coyotes and raccoons, which had ingested rats that had eaten the poison. The poison works its way up the food chain and the audience is coming to realize that all things are connected, and that using these harmful chemicals has devastating consequences for animals.

Do you think your film has encouraged people to take the threat that rodenticides pose to wildlife more seriously?

Absolutely. I think people are shocked to discover the effects of poisoning on wildlife. There are audible gasps in the audience when they see P-22’s photograph as a result of rodent poisoning. People have been asking Poison Free Malibu, who feature in the film, what can be done to prevent the same thing from happening in their neighborhood, how can they get these really dangerous chemicals banned and, how can they put pressure on local authorities to ban the use of rodenticides. There have been positive changes as a direct result of the film.

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P-22 suffered from rodenticide poisoning but was treated and recovered

What has the international reception been like, and do you think people outside of North America will be able to find parallels to challenges they face with wildlife?

The international reception has been awesome. Both The Guardian and the Times of London have written about the film, despite the fact it has yet to premiere in the UK. The universal problem facing all wildlife is loss of habitat – connectivity is a big issue as motorways and freeways have cut swathes across our countryside. Big cats are in danger in particular from habitat fragmentation and, some like the cheetah are near extinction because of it.

The films next big screening is at the Downtown Los Angeles film festival, why is this particular screening so important?

It will reach the heart of the financial district and downtown L.A., where many Angelenos live and work. They may have heard of P-22, but are probably unaware of his amazing story and how he crossed two major freeways to reach Griffith Park. We welcome donors to help sponsor the wildlife crossing through the campaign group Save LA Cougars. The film will be shown at the Regal Live Cinema in Downtown L.A. on Friday September 29th and you can buy tickets through the DTLA Film Festival website.

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Click to see an animation map of P-22’s journey

Now that you have told P-22’s story do you think you will make any more films about mountain lions?

It depends on the story as P-22 is a hard act to follow, but mountain lions are incredible animals and I’m sure there are many stories out there to tell.

Finally, is there anything you can tell us about what will you be working on next?

I’m currently executive producer for the BBC on a new natural history series which will air next year.

Tickets for the DTLA Film Festival screening are now available for purchase. If you would like to support the wildlife crossing directly by making a donation please visit Save LA Cougars.

Love Story

Wonderful short film from Jay Station on Youtube documenting the mating behavior of Florida Panthers. Always fascinating to watch big cat behavior!

Discerning Foxes wear Puma N°5

Animals exist in a completely different sensory world than humans and scents that humans would find offensive or unattractive are often found to be a draw for our four-legged friends. An article in New Scientist recently revealed research by Carnivore Ecologist Max Allen showing gray foxes in California rubbing themselves in “community scrapes” left by male mountain lions.

Discerning foxes wear Puma N°5. While rubbing oneself in puma scent may not sound appealing to us for the fox it could possibly be the equivalent of Chanel N°5 with the added bonus of providing life saving camouflage. Allen tells New Scientist that he was surprised to find foxes frequenting the sites where camera traps had been set up to monitor and film mountain lions. Footage, taken over four years at 26 different sites “revealed the foxes were rubbing their cheeks on bits of ground that had been freshly marked by the mountain lions, often within hours of a big cat’s visit.”

Why are foxes resorting to rubbing Eau de Mountain Lion on them? Coyotes. Foxes are in direct competition with the much larger coyote and are often killed by them, Allen says this is a way for the foxes to evade detection. “Coyotes are very reliant upon smell when hunting and are much bigger than the foxes. The foxes have a hard time fighting back, so they use this to give themselves a chance to escape.” To a coyote if it smells like a puma it must be a puma.

It was found that no other animals, coyotes or bobcats, exhibited this behavior even though they were documented to have visited the community scrapes, but 85% of the foxes did. Predator avoidance seems the most likely explanation and in order to confirm, Allen and his team are planning to tag some gray foxes to determine if puma scents are in fact helping them survive predation.

The Cat That Changed America

P-22 the most famous mountain lion in the world is a both a celebrity and messenger. So far he has managed to: survive the deadly traffic of Los Angeles; stealthily navigate the cities massive urban sprawl taking up residence in an area that represents 3% of a normal size home range for a mountain lion; and, recover from a potentially life-threatening case of rodenticide poisoning. For the most part P-22 has overcome the odds, but his story is a cautionary tale with an important message – one that is explored in the upcoming documentary film The Cat that Changed America.

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The film focuses on P-22, the challenges mountain lions are facing in California and the plan to build the world’s largest wildlife crossing which will help connect mountain lions, and other wildlife, to spaces better suited for them. There is an urgency to get the crossing built as mountain lions are running out of time in California – they are threatened by urban sprawl, inbreeding, vehicles, rat poison and ultimately extinction. If they do not get the help they need now they will most certainly be gone in 50 years

P-22 has helped to create a movement that is shifting our view of mountain lions and, with effort on our part to learn to co-exist with this important keystone species, his story can be a catalyst to help change America and the rest of the world.

In anticipation of the films release I recently spoke to Director Tony Lee about The Cat that Changed America and the role he hopes it will play in helping P-22 and other mountain lions in California.

When you first became aware of P-22, and the crisis facing mountain lions and wildlife in LA, what inspired you to tell his story?

I was struck by how passionate and eloquent the campaigners for the wildlife crossing are, especially Beth Pratt, the California Director for the National Wildlife Federation, and Miguel Ordenana of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. It was actually Miguel who was the first person I spoke to about the story, which is appropriate as he captured the first photograph of P-22 in one of his camera traps in Griffith Park.

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The making of The Cat that Changed America – Behind the scenes stills provided by Tony Lee

Why do you think it is important to make this film now?

I think the film is very timely, as the National Wildlife Federation and the Save LA Cougars campaign are aiming to raise $10 million by the end of 2017 to fund the development of the wildlife crossing, with the long-term goal of completing the crossing in 2021. They need to raise a total over $55 million for this. My film is part of this much larger campaign to raise funds and raise awareness.

How do you see P-22 and his story changing the way Americans, and the world, view mountain lions and their role in a healthy ecosystem?

I chose the title “The Cat that Changed America”, because P-22 has moved the dial in our thinking about where urban wildlife can thrive, especially wildlife as big as a mountain lion. P-22 is living in the middle of the second largest city in the United States, and one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world. If wildlife is to co-exist alongside us, we also need to change our thinking about what are acceptable places for wildlife to live. We also have a choice of becoming responsible and considerate neighbors, which means changing our consumer lifestyle, thinking about the impact on the countryside and not using rat poisons.

In a feature for the Natural History Network you wrote that this was “an intricate and sensitive story”, as well as a challenging one. What makes P-22’s story different from other wildlife conversation films you have made?

I feel a huge responsibility to tell the story well, and use my knowledge and experience as a filmmaker. Together with Alex Rapaport my cinematographer based in LA, we aimed to tell the story through cinematic language and emotional appeal. This story is different from other conservation films I have made, because it is part of a bigger campaign, and I feel the urgency and the responsibility that comes with that.

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Director Tony Lee with Cinematographer Lance Jeffery

You also mentioned that the 1 hour film was completed in about 3 months. What were some of your biggest challenges making a film about one of the most elusive and shy cats in the world, in such a short time frame?

As a wildlife filmmaker, I know that filming mountain lions, and especially P-22 within the time frame would be nigh impossible. They are called ghost cats for good reason as they are incredibly elusive. So I concentrated on filming the characters connected with the wildlife crossing and studying P-22. For actual mountain lion footage, I relied on existing film captured by Miguel Ordenana and Matthew Whitmire who were part of the Griffith Park Connectivity study, as well as the National Park Service, who had footage and photographs of P-22.

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California Director for the National Wildlife Federation Beth Pratt-Bergstrom

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Wildlife Biologist Miguel Ordenana in Griffith Park

You interviewed researchers, experts and citizens for the film – what about P-22’s supporters has stood out most?

There are so many wonderful quotes and passionate stories in the film; some of the stand outs for me include Miguel’s description of finding the P-22 photograph for the first time, which he likens to discovering ‘Big Foot’. Beth also describes her life changing experience when being shown around Griffith Park by Jeff Sikich and realizing that urban wildlife as big as a mountain lion can live right in the middle of LA. Sherry Ferber’s description on hearing that a mountain lion had been killed on the 101 freeway near her home in Liberty Canyon and how that cemented her bond with these cats, and Poison Free Malibu’s plea to stop using anticoagulant rodenticides as we are poisoning the Earth as well as each other.

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National Park Service wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich

The Cat That Changed America has been accepted at the World International Film Festival in Los Angeles and New York. Are there plans to enter it at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival where the conservation focus will be on the big cats?

Yes I absolutely plan to submit it to the 2017 Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. I actually won the Special Jury Award at Jackson Hole in 2015 (for ‘The Secret Life of Your House’, about animals which live in our homes). The award partly inspired me to make this film about P-22. I’ve already approached the Festival board with panel suggestions for their Wild Cats symposium, with the focus being on connectivity and habitat fragmentation facing wild cats.

How important is it for a wildlife film like this to be seen at film festivals?

I think it’s vital to raise awareness to anyone who is interested in wildlife, and especially to those who are unaware or not so interested. P-22 is a celebrity, but many Los Angelenos and people around the world are still unaware of the serious issues facing mountain lions and how they are suffering from fragmentation, habitat loss and the threat of anticoagulant rodenticides.

Besides the film festival circuit where else will the documentary be available for viewing?

I’m currently talking to distributors and channels about broadcasting after the film festivals. I’m hoping that the popularity created by the festivals will stir broadcaster interest as it has done so with other environmental films such as ‘Blackfish’ and ‘Racing Extinction’.

Was there anything that you learned about mountain lions during the process of making the film that has left you in a position to be a better advocate for the species?

Yes, I didn’t know that male mountain lions need very large home ranges – around 200 square miles – they need to be connected to open spaces, otherwise they will fight to the death over territory. It’s our responsibility as Los Angelenos and considerate neighbors to ensure they have enough space to thrive, otherwise they suffer from the effects of inbreeding and intraspecific killing.

P-22’s celebrity seems to be doing for mountain lions what Elsa the lioness of Born Free did for African lions. How do you see your documentary fitting into a new movement towards helping save North America’s lion?

I like to think that bringing my 25 years experience as a wildlife and conservation filmmaker will help P-22’s cause and help raise funds for the wildlife crossing. In fact I feel so strongly about this film, it’s the first time I have used my own money to solely finance a feature, because I felt so passionate about getting it made. I’m sure that people will want to watch it, but I also see it as a donation I’ve made to the Save LA Cougars campaign in the way I know how to contribute as a filmmaker. Conservation films have been notoriously difficult to get funded, but I think we are entering a golden age for documentaries, and I’m excited to be part of that movement.

Do you think that P-22’s story will help change attitudes towards mountain lions and how they are viewed and ‘managed’ outside California?

Absolutely. P-22 has been described as a conservation hero and ambassador, and in fact, I’ll be putting him forward in that category at Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival in 2017. A conservation hero doesn’t necessarily have to be a person like E.O. Wilson or David Attenborough, it can be an animal too, and P-22 is the best poster child for urban wildlife and issues of connectivity.

What is the main message about mountain lions in LA, and in general, that you want people to take away from the film?

If we are to coexist with nature, we radically have to change our lifestyle and our way of thinking, and become part of nature, even if we are living in one of the densest urban areas on Earth. Species are disappearing at an alarming rate; we are Nature’s gatekeepers, the responsibility of the planet at this moment in time rests solely in our hands, and P-22’s story and the wildlife crossing truly shows that charity begins at home, right on our doorstep.


Be sure to visit the films website The Cat that Changed America and share – If there is any story that can help sway people’s interest in helping conserve North America’s lion it’s this one.

If you would like to support the wildlife crossing by making a monetary donation please visit Save LA Cougars

About Producer and Director Tony Lee: Tony is an award-winning filmmaker, television producer and author. Tony has worked in California for 2 years for National Geographic Television and in New York City for Animal Planet. Over his 25 year career, he has produced and directed many programmes in the science and natural history strand for a range of broadcasters. He spends his time between California and England, and has a special interest in big cats. 

What Cougars Do on Highways

What do cougars do when they reach the highway? Sometimes they cross it right away and other times they like to sit on it for a while. This video taken by a thermal camera on Highway 3 in British Columbia near Elko shows that occasionally the cats like to take in their surroundings before moving on. Knowing the potential hazard that exists when wildlife makes its way onto roads, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in British Columbia (TranBC) installed two Wildlife Detection Systems between Cranbrook and the Alberta border to help reduce collisions, human injury and animal fatalities.

The video, which is sped up, revealed that the cat actually sat in the middle of the road for over three minutes. The thermal cameras pick up on the heat signatures coming from the animals and work with radar sensors which then alert drivers to the presence of wildlife with flashing roadside signs. The flashing signs, which continue to flash for several minutes after detecting an animal, give the driver enough advance warning to slow down in time thus averting a potential tragedy. TranBC says it is not uncommon for drivers to see the flashing signs, but no wildlife which may be gone by the time the driver approaches.

The system has been in use for about three months now and is installed at two sites covering nine kilometers where large populations of wildlife are known to be. It was tested before being officially put into use for travelers and will continue to be monitored by TranBC to determine how effective it is at reducing vehicle collisions with wildlife. If proven successful they will consider installing more at other wildlife hot spots around the province.

It would be great to see this type of technology become standard practice, along with wildlife crossing or bridges, at wildlife hot spots all over North America and, especially in areas where cougars face a high mortality rate from vehicles. Hopefully transportation departments will consider these tools as the norm one day soon and include them as standard practice when planning for roads and highways.

The Cougar – Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous

The Cougar  – Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous by author Paula Wild is a book I first came across over a year ago and was drawn to it partly due to its focus on cougars in western Canada. The author was born in the U.S. but moved to British Columbia (BC) where she currently resides, and where much of the book is focused. BC and in particular Vancouver Island, contains the largest concentration of cougars in Canada and in all of North America or the world, making the area a hot spot for cougar activity and encounters both positive and negative.

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The opening chapter includes the story of two young children who had fended off and survived a cougar attack on Vancouver Island in 1916 as well as insight into why the author decided to write the book. There are quite a few references to cougar attacks throughout, both historical and modern-day accounts, but the author mentions that her interest in writing about the cats wasn’t based on these experiences alone. Besides wanting to know how to prevent or survive an attack, she was also driven by a need to know more about an animal that is strongly linked to the same landscape she and many other people share. After hearing a cougar ‘scream’ near her home, listen to what that sounds like here, and reading an article about safety in cougar country she decided to delve into the world of this magnificent but highly misunderstood and persecuted big cat.

For those not familiar with the history of cougars in Canada there is a decent introduction of what the cats met with when the first settlers arrived. The cats were declared ‘varmints’ a threat to livestock and people, they were to be destroyed at all costs, and by any means. Extermination campaigns and bounties were the norm, one cougar hunter was so successful that the Canadian government even provided hunting hounds for him. Many of these sanctioned bounties in Canada, as well as in the U.S., ended in the recent past when the bounty system was realized as an ineffective means of controlling the population and attitudes towards the cat started changing.  By that point the numbers of cougars killed was staggering. In the book it is stated that during the bounty years an estimated “21,871 cougars were killed in BC alone“.

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The history of the cougar in Canada, as well as the U.S. is disturbing however, it is important to acknowledge the past to ensure that we never repeat it again. Cougar in British Columbia – Historical Image Government of BC, Ministry of Environment

The Cougar touches on a variety of topics including safety in cougar country, research, behavior, biology, the captive animal crisis and the rise of cougar encounters. Some researchers think that encounters are increasing due to the cats recovery in particular areas, while others feel that it is a direct result of the presence of more people and in cougar territory. Humans are simply putting more pressure on cougars, their prey and habitat which ultimately can have an impact on the cats behavior. All of this is a recipe for more conflict and to avoid it the public must educate themselves and wildlife agencies and government must be supportive. Unfortunately at the moment Canada continues to fall behind on almost all fronts when it comes to cougars – in research, education of the public and protection of the cats from persecution.

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Cougar attacks are still very rare – you are more likely to drown in your bathtub, be killed by a pet dog, or hit by lightning.

Fear-mongering and sensationalism still exists, especially in the main stream media, and cougars are for the most part portrayed as a public threat, but thankfully some of the old attitudes towards cougars are slowly changing, with the knowledge that they already do co-exist with people remaining out of sight, preferring to avoid humans when they can. Researchers are now also aware of the vital and important role they play in healthy ecosystems, managing prey species and enriching our landscapes.

The trade off with living in or near cougar country means we must take responsibility and learn to safely coexist with them taking precautions to ensure people, pets, children and livestock are safe.

The Cougar – Beautiful, Wild and Dangerous addresses many of the key issues surrounding cougars as well as being an interesting read, especially for those who would like to know more about cougars in western Canada where they exist in what could be considered their last great refuge.