Los Angeles’ most famous mountain lion, known as P22, will be captured and studied for his health following recent attacks on two small dogs and close encounters with people near the park he calls home.
Wildlife officials made the announcement Thursday and said in a statement that, following the assessment, California Department of Fish and Wildlife veterinarians and National Park Service biologists will determine the best next steps for the animal, while also prioritizing the safety of the surrounding communities.
P22 resides in Griffith Park, a 4,000-acre expanse tucked away in the Hollywood Hills, surrounded by streets, highways, and homes, and has often been spotted roaming suburban communities. But recent attacks appear to indicate the mountain lion may be in “distress,” officials said.
Related: “The Brad Pitt of Mountain Lions”: How P22 Became Los Angeles’ Wildest Celeb
“P22 has been reported near human habitation near its habitat in Griffith Park,” they say. “Reports include sightings, video camera recordings and physical encounters with the lion. P-22 is an extraordinarily old cat in the wild, and after being found responsible for killing a pet off a leash last month, he may be showing signs of distress.
The cat is believed to have killed an off-leash Chihuahua mix during an evening walk Nov. 9, KTLA reported. The dog sitter was unharmed. Another attack injured a chihuahua named Taz, but he will recover. Taz’s owner had a fight with the cat that attacked her.
P22, sometimes called “the Brad Pitt of mountain lions,” was first spotted in Griffith Park in February 2012 and has since become a local celebrity. His life as a wild creature thriving in a bustling metropolis of cars, concrete and people has inspired murals, songs and even a museum exhibit. Researchers say he has plenty of deer to eat, no male competitors in his turf, but also no hope of finding a mate.
He’s also past his prime: At 11, he’s the oldest cat in the National Park Service research study. The normal lifespan of a mountain lion is around 10 years, but they can live twice that time in captivity. And with just 8 square miles to go, it has the smallest territory of any known mountain lion (typically a male cat’s territory is 150 square miles).
The challenges associated with life on its small island habitat appear to be increasing, and scientists are noting a recent change in its behavior, according to the statement. “This is an unprecedented situation where a mountain lion has continued to survive in such an urban setting.”
P22’s plight underscores the unfortunate consequences of a lack of connectivity for mountain lions and all wildlife, says Beth Pratt, California regional executive director, National Wildlife Federation, who leads the SaveLACougars campaign. “If Griffith Park was connected to other open spaces, P22 would have options,” she wrote in a statement yesterday. “P22 may now not travel as close to the denser human-wildlife interface.”
His future is uncertain, but his legacy is not. P22 has been the face of a campaign to raise funds and awareness for a massive wildlife bridge built on Highway 101, one of California’s busiest thoroughfares, which opened its doors earlier this year. At least 25 big cats have been killed on Los Angeles roads since 2002, and the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing will create safe passage for mountain lions as well as lizards, snakes, toads and even insects. While this project won’t benefit P22, there are about a dozen mountain lions in the areas and it will help them connect their territories.
“It’s so hard,” Pratt wrote on Twitter on Friday. “He is in such a difficult situation and is the right choice to act. But I can’t imagine LA without P22.”