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.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

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. 

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors

If you are the most famous mountain lion in LA (arguably all of North America), have safely crossed two of the busiest freeways in the U.S., been immortalized in a now iconic photo in front of the Hollywood sign by Steve Winter, and, have become the spokes cat for your species and the center of a national campaign to help wildlife, you would think that you had nothing left on your list to accomplish. If however you happen to be P-22, it’s only logical that you end up gracing the cover of a book.

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The enormous pressure wildlife faces from humans and human development means they either learn to adapt to survive or, as we have seen with many creatures, vanish. We are bombarded almost on a daily basis with these negative and depressing stories which for many, including myself, can be very overwhelming. Instead of focusing on those aspects which we often feel helpless to change, When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors does the exact opposite by highlighting the inspirational – what is being done to help wildlife and what can work if we decide to take action. Today it is not only the scientist and researcher making a difference it is people like you and me, the everyday citizen who will ultimately play a key role in helping wildlife prosper and survive.

Being one of my most anticipated reads of this year, I reached out to author and California Director for the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), Beth Pratt-Bergstrom to talk more about her book, wildlife in California, the handsome cover boy P-22 and the campaign to get the worlds largest wildlife crossing built.

Lets start off with where you at with the Save LA Cougars Campaign (which for readers who don’t know is the national campaign to raise funds to build a safe and desperately needed wildlife crossing at LA’s 101 freeway)

It is going forward, the crossing is going to get built and there is a lot going on. Right now we are at the planning and compliance stage, which is funded through early 2017. We need to raise 10 million by middle of 2017, then balance by mid 2019 to have the crossing built by 2021.

We are having P-22 Day and Urban Wildlife Week October 16 through to the 22 to raise awareness for the crossing fundraiser and to announce leadership gifts – big online fundraising. Before hand I will be hiking the same route P-22 took (40-miles) from the Santa Monica Mountains to where he has been living in Griffith Park. This event will be a big milestone in the Save LA Cougars campaign.

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If you live in LA be sure to check out P-22 Day and Urban Wildlife Festival October 16-22 – Image P-22 Mountain Lion of Hollywood Facebook.

Interestingly there has been a study released that has confirmed what we have been saying – there is empirical evidence that if we don’t do something now and help mountain lions in California, in 50 years it certain they will go extinct. So it’s like ‘we told you so’ it’s both good and bad, we have to get the crossing built we have no time to lose. The best worst case scenario is mountain Lions go extinct in 50 years if we don’t, this is based on facts from modeling but it doesn’t take into account other mountain lion fatalities from vehicles and rodenticides poisoning. In the case of rodenticides people are seeing what mountain lions and other animals have suffered and want to make change. In California there is something here, a value and call to action, and I hope other people in other places can do the same.

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors is positive in its message and very accessible – meaning anyone can read it. How important were these aspects when you were writing the book?

The goal was to make it about the positive as all of us are exposed to so much of the negative, I get battered down with the bad news, so I wanted it to focus on what was working and how you get people inspired. For instance, I was inspired by Born Free and being taken whale watching by my dad – It is the good news that inspires people. This also helps getting people who aren’t already converted as it is easy to get burnt out.

It was also important to make it accessible –  not academic. We want people to learn about science, but we do this by tricking them into learning about it. It is difficult for science based organizations like NWF and researchers to be non-scientific like when I first mentioned to National Park Service wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich about ‘P22 dating’ he said please they (mountain lions) don’t date…but they eventually got it..that it makes it easier for to the average person to relate to the predicament P-22 is in, which is the lonely bachelor looking for love.

Besides being an awesome cover boy, mountain Lion P-22 plays a major role in the book

The book is actually the reason why I work on the Save LA Cougars Campaign – it was a very different book initially, then when P22 came on the scene it changed the whole book. I thought that this was the story it was about urban interface. P-22 shouldn’t be where he is but I had this great epiphany – who am I to judge if this is the only way the cat can live? We need to share our human spaces with wildlife, if we don’t share our spaces they aren’t going to be here. The study of wildlife in urban environments say they are stressed…but so are people! it doesn’t mean that wildlife can’t live there. This is a big shift and it’s catching ground a lot, LA is leading the way. I use it as a challenge – if LA can do it what’s anyone’s excuse.

P22 is a modern lion in many ways, including being socially savvy, he fits perfectly into a media obsessed culture

He is the reason that the film The Cat that changed America is being made. The headline is a modern story that people can relate to on social media, it is about having a day-to-day relationship with wildlife and he has shown that wild predators can live rather peacefully with us. People can relate to P-22, it has set this model and the world has been watching. In my mind he is the cat that changed the world, people are asking ‘what’s going on in LA with a mountain lion…and they are OK with this?’.

He is figuring out how to adapt to human interface  – not every mountain lion could be this successful in Griffith Park, but P-22 is a modern cat and has worked it out. He also shows us they are individuals and have personalities like people and that is a game changer, he is the right cat for the right time to be an ambassador for his species. You have P-22 who has adapted to LA, and LA who has adapted, and for the two to coincide is remarkable.

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P22 last year looking good after recovering from a bad case of mange – Photo National Park Service

There is the message in the book that mountain lions aren’t the big scary threat that media so often makes them out to be

I am all for anthropomorphism, they are not exactly like us but they are like us, however there is a balance  –  we want people to be familiar with their typical behavior but also know when to be scared. We want people to learn about them and to know that mountain lions aren’t waiting ready to jump out of the woods at any moment at people. If you become familiar with these animals and build a relationship that is a good thing. I think that’s where science has done a disservice in the traditional mode in teaching us that they are just as numbers, but you don’t want to go to far into familiarity and have people feeding them and petting them or thinking they are pets – they are not pets.

So it’s a fine balance and we want the public to establish a relationship with them but doing this by maintaining a distance recognizing that and respecting that they are wild animals as well. We tend to go to far down either extreme when we over-estimate or underestimate the risk – they are cute or they are vicious murderers – no they are not in fact, they rather not eat us. It’s a fine balance that we need to strike if wildlife is going to have a future – it can’t be hands off and it can’t be that we are in utter terror all the time.

Predators like mountain lions were demonized by the first settlers, why do you think that mentality still exists even when we know more about them today?

I try to sympathize with people who didn’t know anything about them. I live in mountain lion country, every wild animal that lives in California is in my yard, bears, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, etc…but I live in a secure house, have a fenced yard and I don’t have a farm. So I sympathize to a point and I get why it was dark and scary at the time of the first settlers, although if they had listened to Native Americans it would have been different.

If you don’t know about mountain lion behavior and see a snarling cat near you although he is probably not a danger, you are going to think he is. I think it (fear) is innate in some people, however most are fascinated and in awe with wildlife  – seeing wildlife is remarkable for most people. I don’t know why at this point the fear still exits giving the relative comfort we live in and the given the risks we should be frightened of everyday… we actually should be shuttering in our feet everyday about cars more than mountain lions. It is a very emotional thing, wolves are also a great example of how these myths have persisted. They have been demonized for no reason and this hatred has persisted even though when you look at rate of attacks on humans which is almost nothing and livestock depredation rates disease and domestic dogs take out more.

We are creating new myths and P-22 is part of that story telling, that is what matters now. We have science to back it up, but how we actually feel about predators like P-22 matters more than the science so he is forging new grounds for mountain lions.

Your book (and Heart Of A Lion by William Stolzenburg) are part of a new movement giving people a new way to look at these animals

There is a whole new genre about animals in general it is really challenging preconceptions about what an animal is  – books pointing to science telling us what many of already know. I am a person of science so you do want the rigorous science but I am glad it’s coming out. Look at Black Fish, that was science based and looked what happened the Sea world model collapsed and people look at killer whales differently. Challenging the preconceived notion that animals just eat and mate and have no emotional lives beyond that – it’s basically what animal lovers already knew but it’s great to have the science behind it.

Your book features a lot of other wildlife in California as well as how people are helping

P-22 is definitely the lead story but I could have done 10 volumes because there are so many great stories. The take away is the wildlife crossing is a grand sweeping and visionary, it will be the largest in the world when built – other stories illustrate what stuff  you can do in your backyard and business, it’s not just all about grand projects – we collectively make a difference for wildlife doing some easy things. For example the Facebook Foxes, they made a home on campus for the foxes and it is one of my favorite stories. They don’t pet or feed them but they just accepted them as part of the campus and the foxes have adapted are comfortable, it’s a success story.

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Move fast and fox trot – (photo credit @mzajko) Facebook Foxes page

Another favorite story is the Marine Core who raise baby desert tortoise and train 30,000 Marines a year on tortoise conservation when they come through boot camp. So many simple stories like city of Martinez who let the beavers stay…regular citizens doing things, it shows it’s simple things we can do collectively to make a huge difference for wildlife. We are restoring habitat in our own backyards that has been lost and the conservation impact on that can be high if we all do it.

Like Leo Politi Elementary the school that transformed a concrete pad into a wildlife friendly habitat, it’s a great story – save wildlife and ourselves. It’s like if mountain lions disappear and the Eco-system is out of whack and what’s next – we have collapse. The school built a community and it benefited kids, test scores went up and their health improved and even their parents got involved – it built a community. It connected wildlife and people they are the perfect illustration of how all of it works together.

The message is people in California want wildlife in their cities, but other cities are doing things to like Chicago who passed an ordinance to looking at non-lethal solution for urban coyotes, Austin Texas where the NWF has a community wildlife certification program, Baltimore is a certified wildlife city doing a lot with city gardening. I think there are a lot of signs of hope and it seems to be catching on, lets hope it becomes a real movement.

What is up next now that your book is out and P-22 Day is scheduled?

My job is a mix of programs, research, fundraising and continuing working on projects for cougars, foxes, pika, fissures and frogs to push more initiatives forward and help to fundraise. My sweet spot is engaging people and getting out in the field, I want to be out there to get people involved, but the biggest project is getting the crossing built but we are going to get there.

Will I write another book? I’d love to, as I have many more stories, it will just be under different circumstances when I have more time!

What are your personal experiences with mountain lions?

I have seen them four times, most out while hiking, but I have been very lucky and seen one collard and up close. My favorite sighting was one with parents who moved 2 miles down the road from me. My mom has a bird bath and one night they called me up to say they saw a mountain lion take a drink from the bird bath and I said no they don’t do that in full view people, this happens for 2 nights. On the third night I go back and sure enough there the cat was! It was remarkable but sad as the drought at the time was so bad that he had to go to a house in daylight to drink. He wanted nothing to do with us, he just wanted water.

Finally what are your thoughts mountain lions outside of California

I see signs of hope that other places are recognizing the importance and benefits of predators like mountain lions and wolves but there is still  a long way to go, but I am seeing signs of hope. Wildlife is also making tentative first steps (like the cat that is profiled in Heart of A Lion) my hope is that other places come to the realization that it is possible to live among predators, we can achieve balance and they need to be an integral part of the landscape for Eco-system health.

Values are shifting and we will get there for practical reason like the study that shows if you bring mountain lions back you can help prevent Lyme disease. I am hopeful even though it is sometimes hard, but I do think people no matter where you live, have an awe and connection to wildlife that will prevail at some point.

I really do think views are changing we already see that in some places and, I think this will be a non-issue in 50 to 100 years in most places.

When Mountain Lions Are Neighbors is an inspirational and educational read. It is filled with interesting accounts and stories (including what African Lion poop has to do with bears in Yosemite) for the dedicated city-dweller or nature lover, no matter you live. It is part of my Recommended Reading List and can be purchased at online retailers like Amazon.

If you are looking for ways to support the wildlife crossing you can make a donation to the Save LA Cougars campaign. If you live in LA be sure not to miss P-22 Day Festival and Urban Wildlife week October 16-22.

Heart of A Lion – A Lone Cat’s Walk Across America

On June 11, 2011 a mountain lion was struck and killed by a car in Connecticut, for most his death would go unnoticed, a cat that was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, another causality of urbanization. For scientists his death would eventually reveal an incredible and ultimately tragic journey, while giving hope to the idea that mountain lions could one day reclaim their former territory in the Eastern U.S. where they have been considered officially extinct for decades. For wildlife journalist and author William Stolzenburg this young male mountain lion would become the extraordinary and unlikely hero of his book Heart of A Lion.

Heart of a Lion A Lone Cat's Walk Across America, William Stolzenburg, Mountain Lions, Pumas, Eastern Cougar, Book Review, Heart of a Lion, big cats of north america, American Lion, save pumas, Mountain Lions journey to find love,The mountain lion, who has been nicknamed Walker, was discovered to have journeyed almost 2,000 miles from South Dakota’s Black Hills all the way to Connecticut, not that far from New York City. Through DNA analysis, physical evidence left behind, eyewitness accounts and camera traps, biologists were able to trace his origin back to the Black Hills. His journey, which is the longest documented of any mountain lion, would come to an end in a place where his species had not been seen in almost a century.

Heart of A Lion pieces together Walkers short but extraordinary life as he made his way across dangerous and challenging territory complete with urban sprawl, busy roads, and, people who would want him dead simply for existing. The reason for his journey can be found coded in his DNA, the deep biological need to seek out and establish his own territory and, to find a mate. This search would take him east across six U.S. states, and at one point north into Canada and my home province of Ontario. What he couldn’t have known is that he would never encounter a female. With no established mountain lion populations in the east and the fact that females do not undertake long distance journey’s, instead sticking close to their home range (there has been one documented exception), Walker’s search would sadly prove futile.

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“The first photographic evidence of a cougar in Wisconsin that would eventually travel all the way to Connecticut. This photo was taken by an automatic camera in a cornfield in Dunn county, Wis. on December 22, 2009.” Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via LiveScience

The saying To walk a mile in someone’s shoes, comes to mind when reading Heart of A Lion and I don’t think it makes a difference that in this case the someone happens to be a mountain lion, especially if his story helps readers identify with and feel empathy for him and the plight of his species.  Despite traversing his way through highly populated areas he would rarely come into contact with humans, revealing himself only to a lucky few, a testament to the elusive nature of his species. He did not bring harm to nor was he a threat to humans, and he was most definitely not the blood-thirsty killer that mountain lions are so often wrongly labeled as. Walker’s story sends us a message and it’s one that we have heard before – that co-existing with these cats is possible and in some places we are already doing that.

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“A cougar from the Black Hills of South Dakota prowls forest land in Clark County, Wis., Automatic trail camera snapped this early-morning shot on January 18, 2010. In June 2011, the same cougar was hit by a car and killed in Connecticut, DNA tests showed. The cougar’s  journey from South Dakota to Connecticut blew previous cougar travel records out of the water.” Credit: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via LiveScience

Heart of A Lion doesn’t rely on portraying these cats as the stereotypical ‘beast’ to tell an intriguing story. Instead, it shows us a side of these animals that rarely makes headlines, the side that research and science is discovering is the norm rather than the exception – mountain lions are shy cats who avoid humans when given the space and opportunity to do so.

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Walker’s journey came to an abrupt end on Wilbur Cross Parkway, Milford in June, 2011. (Courtesy Connecticut State Police)

In addition to the main story the book also explores the history of the mountain lion, including how they were treated as vermin, right up to present day and the pressures they face from current day hunting policies. The book is guaranteed to stir up emotions, which may be a good thing especially if gets people thinking and pushes us towards changing outdated attitudes towards North America’s lion. It’s OK to celebrate Walker’s journey and mourn his passing, I know I did.

Whether you already love mountain lions or you are just starting to learn about them, the book is an important read and a new way of looking at these amazing animals, one that I hope becomes a trend. Heart of a Lion can be purchased at various online retailers including Amazon and is part of my Recommended Reading List.

An interesting note is the story of a GPS collard female mountain lion named Sandy who was being studied by biologists in British Columbia. Sandy had made a never before documented journey for a female walking 450 miles from BC to Montana before her life was taken by a trophy hunter in December of 2015. Just how far she would have gone and where she would have ended up, will never be known.

Prime Suspect

Everyone’s favorite Mountain Lion P22 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 P22 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 P22 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 P22, 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 P22 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 P22 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, P22 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 P22 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 P22 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 P22. 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 P22 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.

Mountain Lions of LA

Last night 60 minutes featured the Mountain Lions of LA including some good footage of P22 the resident Mountain Lion of Griffith Park who is also at the center of the Save LA Cougars campaign. In case you missed it, click here or on image below to view the segment.

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Mountain Screamer

In honor of Halloween, I am sharing one of my favorite videos of the cat who holds the world record for the animal with the highest number of names due to its wide distribution across North and South America. You may have chills run down your spine after watching this and, you will most definitely understand why this cat is called a Mountain Screamer!

This is a clip of a female Mountain Lion in heat calling for a mate with a sound that only a male Mountain Lion would find alluring. This lady gets A for effort however, her attempt may have fallen on deaf ears as they could not confirm if she was successful in attracting a male. Males are also known to produce similar screaming sounds which are used to intimidate rivals or during a fight with other males.

The video is by Parliament of Owls on YouTube and was taken from a trail cam this April. It is very cool, but loud. So you may wish to turn down the volume – or crank it up depending on your mood. The perfect backdrop for a good Halloween scare? Be sure to watch to the end….

Mountain Lions go by many names including American Lion, mountain screamer, Puma, Cougar, Ghost cat, Catamount and Panther. The names are based on their geographic location which is the largest of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Mountain Lions are a member of the Felidae family, as opposed to the Panthera family like Tigers and Lions.

The major difference between the two families is the Panthera family’s ability to roar, Felidae cats can not roar, instead they make noises such as purrs, hisses, chirps and screams. The ability to roar depends on the structure of the hyoid bone, to which the muscles of the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box) are attached.

The Mountain Lion That Could

My trip to LA would not have been complete without meeting the cities most “wild” and elusive celebrity, a big cat who hasn’t let fame go to his head.

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P22 on his home turf – Griffith Park the second largest Urban Park in the US

P22 also known as the Hollywood Hills Cougar, was first spotted in 2012 by camera traps set up by the Griffith Park Natural History Survey’s Wildlife Connectivity Study. P22 had been looking for a new territory, dispersing from the Santa Monica Mountains, when he did something remarkable and crossed two of the busiest freeways in the US, the 405 and the 101.

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P22’s journey to Griffith Park from the Santa Monica Mountains across two major highways and through a highly developed urban area Image – NWF

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First images of P22 in Griffith Park taken in 2012 – Photo Griffith Park Connectivity Study – NWF

The Mountain Lion that could P22 survived the freeways and made it to Griffith Park where he decided to take up residency in an area that represents 3% of a normal size home range for a mountain lion. Surrounded and trapped by the busy city of Los Angeles in an urban park that gets millions of visitors a year P22 also managed to remain out of sight. His anonymity wouldn’t last long as his story spread and his celebrity cemented when photographer Steve Winter captured him, in the now iconic photo, with the Hollywood sign in the background.

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P22 in the December 2013 issue of National Geographic Photo – Steve Winter

From that moment on P22 became the poster cat for the plight facing urban wildlife trying to survive in and around the big city. He would also become the center of the National Wildlife Federations (NWF) Save LA Cougars campaign, an initiative to ensure mountain lions have a future in California by providing a much-needed wildlife crossing at the 101 freeway. While it’s amazing to think a mountain lion lives in Griffith Park, he shouldn’t be trapped there. In the future the crossing will help ensure these cats are better connected to wild spaces more suited for them.

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P22’s home is surrounded by a sea of endless human development

To find out more about Save LA Cougars I met up with P22 (the cutout – no real mountain lions were used in the making of this story) and Leigh Wyman California Program Assistant, Urban Wildlife at the NWF. We decide to meet in Griffith Park at the entrance close to the Los Feliz neighborhood where a few months earlier P22 took up residence under the crawl space of a house. I spot the familiar cutout of P22 propped up against the picnic table and he is not alone, some children have gathered around excited and curious about the big cat.

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Camera traps catch P22 feeding on deer in Griffith Park – Photo Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area

I will find out that P22 draws a lot of attention when he is out and about and, when I ask Leigh about being upstaged by a life-size cardboard cut out of a mountain lion she tells me “it’s great actually and it brings out people’s concern about mountain lions…it gets a dialogue going especially after the Los Feliz crawl space incident.”

While the cut out is a lot of fun, the basis of the Save LA Cougars campaign is a serious one. Mountain lions are in trouble and facing a multitude of challenges from habitat loss, vehicular deaths, intra-species killings, inbreeding and poisoning by rodenticides. Barriers like freeways add to these problems by restricting the ability of mountain lions to move around freely from one territory to another. The link provided by the crossing is going to be vital to the survival of the species.

Leigh explains that mountain lions are one of California’s last big predators and that possibility of loosing them has led to discussion and speculation on what it would do the ecosystems. As we are finding out everywhere predators like mountain lions play a major role in maintaining the health of ecosystems and loosing them could have negative and irreversible consequences.

“If mountain lions don’t get help inbreeding can also occur and then they are in trouble genetically. For example fathers will mate with daughters, which leads to kinked tails, and other health issues. Since there isn’t an abundant amount of cats something needs to be done to ensure they will continue to be around.” Left unchecked inbreeding could be a cause that leads to the species demise.

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P22 last year looking good after recovering from a bad case of mange – Photo National Park Service

The National Park Service conducted a 12 year study of mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains capturing, collaring and tagging about 30 plus cats, give or take a few that have been lost. “With the GPS data the biologist collected they can see the cats as points on a map over all locations. The data shows the lineage of the cats, what it means for genetic variation and how it helps the population. It also shows that the cats come right up to the freeways to cross but instead turnaround.”

Cost of connectivity Early this year the campaign got a boost when the California Department of Transportation received a  one million dollar grant from the State Coastal Conservancy. The money pays for the environmental assessment and initial design of the what the actual crossing structure will look like. Once that phase is over the campaign will need an additional 2.5 to 3.5 million to get shovel ready plus more beyond that. Early estimates put a tunnel crossing in at around 10 million, however I am told the final cost of the crossing along with the actual design is still yet to be determined.

Location location location The campaign should be shovel ready by sometime in 2018 and will break ground at the Aougra Hills exit at Liberty Canyon on the other side of the 101 freeway. Based on the data collected and the fact that there have been more than a few mountain lions killed by vehicles near the proposed crossing, Liberty Canyon has been determined to be the last best place to help wildlife cross the freeways.

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Beth Pratt-Bergstrom  NWF’s California Director with P22 at one of the LA freeways he crossed – Photo NWF

All wildlife wins “There are big areas of protected private and public land that work as funnels for mountain lions and other wildlife out of the Santa Monica Mountains. While mountain lions are the priority because they are endangered, the crossing will benefit all wildlife like deer, fox, bobcats, coyotes right down to the smallest amphibians and that’s what make this project fantastic.”

Does the crossing mean more mountain lions in the city? I am told that there was some concern about that but there is a very good possibility that the crossing will “lessen human and mountain lion interactions because they won’t need to come into our space, they will have a better free flow into the more wild areas.”

Will the cats use the crossing? “Since we can’t go around asking the mountain lions or tell them where to cross,  we rely on the scientific data collected on both the mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains and where the hot spots are needed for connectivity.  You also look at the data from crossings built elsewhere and you can see they work. Science has proved crossing can be successful.” Biologist have collected and pinpointed the best possible location for the crossing and will use camera’s to monitor activity as well as continue to collect blood samples to track the cats DNA.

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Banff National Park’s wildlife crossing structures. Cougars are quick learners, taking approximately three years to adapt to the crossing. Image © Parks Canada

I am told that there has been mainly all positive support for the project and that California is ready for this to happen. “California is opening the door to a new way of thinking about transportation, city planning and the environment – it becomes part of people’s mentality.” Looking at the state of the Florida Panther which is highly endangered she says people in California “do not want mountain lions here to get to that point, and the open-minded perspective on incorporating wildlife into daily life is really exciting.”

Steve Winter’s photos helped propel public knowledge of the campaign and was extremely helpful when it came to “raising awareness with complete strangers.” Leigh tells me that she started P22’s Facebook page and in 3 weeks it had 3,000 likes from all of over the US and the rest of the world. “In LA it’s become part of the local culture in and around the city. I have even heard side conversations about P22 in the grocery store!”

Leading by example “Traditionally the approach has been to protect islands of land like Yellow Stone or Yosemite which is great, but what they are seeing now is that connectivity is essential for wildlife and ecosystems to flourish. By creating a wildlife crossing in an urban setting we hope to set the platform for other cities to do the same.”

While most other wildlife crossing around the world, like the ones in Europe or Banff National Park, are constructed in more natural and open areas California will be constructing it in a huge urban city, which has not been done before. “It’s a new way for cities to keep an ecological mindset and their urban system overlapping. You have downtown LA, the Hollywood walk of fame on one side and bobcats, coyotes and a mountain lion in Griffith Park, the two worlds can co-exist and LA and California want them to continue to exist.”

The biggest obstacle is the funding, but the NWF has been working with the necessary agencies and is confident that they will come up with the required money. “The campaign is more than a snowball effect it is moving at a fast pace.”

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With P22 and Leigh Wyman – Thumbs up for #SaveLACougars

Taking one for the team P22 has been the ultimate spokes cat for the wildlife crossing, urban wildlife and the Save LA Cougars campaign but how does he make out in all of this? Sadly the crossing won’t help him, at six years of age he is a confirmed bachelor of Griffith Park, but his story has provided the juice and momentum for the campaign which will assist in helping his relatives and ancestors that still roam the surrounding areas.

How will P22’s story end? Leigh laughs when I joke about the movie deal “This is Hollywood though…so you never know.”

Looking for ways to support the Save LA Cougars campaign?

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  • Text “LION” to 25383 to donate $10 to #SaveLACougars on your mobile
  • Download the Save LA Cougars Campaign Flyer to help spread the word
  • Donate directly to NWF and the Save LA Cougars Campaign
  • Volunteer with the NWF or host a fundraiser for P22 at home or with your school
  • Snap a selfie with P22’s cutout and be sure to tag it with #SaveLACougars to help spread awareness on social media

Finally, no self-respecting mountain lion, in Los Angeles, would be without a way to connect with his fans so be sure to check out P22 on Facebook.