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. 

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.

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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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.

Bright Lights Big Cat

When Mountain Lion P-22, also known as the Hollywood Hills Cougar, wandered into the Los Feliz Hills area of Los Angeles sometime on Monday to take refuge in the crawl space of a house, the home owners weren’t the only ones who got a surprise. P-22 was made famous when his photo was featured on the cover of National Geographic after camera traps set up LA’s Griffith Park captured a stunning image of him at night, with the glowing Hollywood Hills sign in the background.

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The story of P-22 touched many and put a spotlight on wildlife forced to live in close proximity to humans, with nowhere to go these animals are often under pressure to learn to adapt to an ever diminishing natural environment. Photo – Steve Winter

It had been determined through genetic testing that P-22 was related to Mountain Lions from the Santa Monica Mountains, and that he had left home in search of new territory crossing at least two of the busiest freeways in the US to get to Griffith Park where he now resides. That he was able to navigate through a maze of human development unseen and survive the freeway crossings makes him one very lucky cat.

Bright Lights, Big Cat  – P-22 captured by camera trap with the glowing city lights of Los Angeles behind him

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Photo – Steve Winter

Having overcome one major hurdle he faced another  last year when he was found suffering from a severe case of mange and exposure to rat poison, which is proven to be deadly to wildlife. The rat poison is also what made him susceptible to mange, but luckily P-22 responded to treatment and photos taken later that year showed he was doing well.

Cougars are extremely secretive choosing to avoid people and, P-22 had done a pretty good job at remaining elusive. However on Monday that all changed when he was discovered under the LA home. According to the LA TimesSurveillance camera video and data from P-22’s GPS tracking collar show that the Los Feliz neighborhood has also been a regular hangout… California Department of Fish and Wildlife speculated that P-22 might have been regularly using the crawl space of the house, which has frequently been vacant.”

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Sorry P-22 your hideout has been discovered – Image the LA Times

Workers installing a security system in the house discovered the cat and told the owners who called Animal Services. The Department of Fish and Wildlife was notified and they tried to figure a way to get the cat to come out. That’s when things got crazy.

Reporters flocked to the site and helicopters hovered and, if you didn’t know any better you would have thought you tuned into the latest paparazzi chase for some big Hollywood star.  At this point I was hoping for a happy ending where P-22 did not become a victim of an overzealous media.

Using tranquilizers was not an option because they could not get a clear shot, so instead officers opted for other non-lethal methods which included launching bean bags and tennis balls at the cat. However, nothing they did seemed to work and it was clear that P-22 was not going to come out.

For the video of the NBC local news report click here

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Featured on local news report – P-22 a victim of the paparazzi

Unfortunately the harassment was kept up for a while, but finally common sense seem to prevail and they stopped trying to force him out, everyone finally backed off.

At some point later when all the commotion had died down P-22 slipped out unseen, just as stealthily as he had come. It was reported on Tuesday morning that the 6-year-old Mountain Lion had left the building and was tracked, by his radio collar, back safely in Griffith Park somewhere. One day P-22 will likely leave Griffith Park again and when he does I hope he is given the respect and space he deserves.

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P-22 and his story has come to represent the crises facing urban wildlife. He is also at the heart of the Save LA Cougars campaign which aims to help Mountain Lions and other wildlife by building a wildlife crossing to connect habitat needed for their survival.

 

Cat Crossings

There are less than 50 Ocelots estimated remaining in the US, concentrated primarily around Laguna Atascosa and on private lands in Texas, however the combination of vehicles and urban development have become one of the greatest threats to this endangered cat.

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Ocelots, a species precariously close to being extinct in the US – Photograph by Joel Sartore, National Geographic Creative

The death of any of these rare cats is considered devastating and when one was killed by a vehicle on a Texas state Highway south of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grand Valley in November 2013, it was taken very seriously. The cat was identified as Ocelot Male 276 and had been “watched with trepidation as he crisscrossed a patchwork of cotton fields and convenience stores, culverts and roadways, seeking to establish a territory and find a mate.

Ocelots are so beautiful and so rare, and to lose so many of these animals to vehicular collision just seems senseless.” said refuge manager Boyd Blihovde in an article published by National Geographic. “The number one cause of Ocelot deaths in the US today is vehicular. Six of the 14 cats tracked with radio telemetry by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Laguna Atascosa biologists have been killed by vehicles. As Blihovde puts it, “Wildcats and highways don’t mix.” While vehicles aren’t solely responsible for the damage they are helping to deliver a deadly blow to the species when coupled with other factors like habitat loss and fragmentation.

Some 95 percent of the cats native habitat in the US has been converted to agriculture or become urban sprawl.” 

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Humans have rapidly created a deadly maze in which Ocelots must try to navigate to survive  – Photo Nature.org

The space requirements needed for these cats to recover properly is estimated to be one million acres and while the US Fish and Wildlife Service has taken steps to help the Ocelot it has fallen short in its promise to secure land to create habitats and corridors for the cat. Ultimately this means that the responsibility has and will fall with the people as 95% of land in Texas is privately owned. “Landowner incentives will be required and may offer the best hope to conserve the species.”

Cat Crossings

The news for Ocelots seems rather grim but wildlife crossings, like the one pictured below, are scheduled to be built in 2016 and will help the cats avoid vehicles, busy highways and importantly connect them safely to new territory.

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Conserving and connecting habitat for ocelots is critical to minimizing mortality risk and improving the species ability to flourish. – Photo USFWS

New Blood

When the images of a kitten appeared on the trail camera in the Laguna Atascosa Refuge last March the photos brought hope and relief as each new kitten means the species has a chance. The kitten who is thought to be female, will hopefully breed successfully giving a much-needed boost to the US Ocelot population.

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A new Ocelot kitten takes a selfie at the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge – Photo  US Fish & Wildlife

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The black-and-white trail camera image of the 2 month-old baby ocelot at the Wildlife Refuge, which houses one of only two breeding populations of the mid-sized wild cats in the US – Photo US Fish & Wildlife

How you can help

In honor of Ocelot Conservation Day today, please ask the US Fish and Wildlife Service to do more for these cats by signing and sharing this Care2 petition. Ocelots desperately need our help and by giving them the protection and habitat to roam, we can ensure they are around for many years to come.