HomeTop StoriesIt looks like there's a new mountain lion in Griffith Park. ...

It looks like there’s a new mountain lion in Griffith Park. Let’s try not to kill him

There was no doubt about it. The hulking blond furry animal on a tree trunk, illuminated by a car’s headlights in a parking lot east of Barham Boulevard on the edge of Griffith Park, was a mountain lion last week.

Serious? In Los Angeles, the beloved mountain lion named P-22 had lived in Griffith Park for ten years. But he was an aberration. It was astonishing that he got there at all – most likely by crossing dangerous highways to get to the park, cramped by lion stands, where he easily found prey like deer and just as easily dodged the people who flocked there for recreation.

He was captured and euthanized in late 2022 due to illness and serious injuries.

Read more: The unconfirmed sighting of a mountain lion near Griffith Park brings to mind LA’s favorite big cat, P-22

But here was a video taken by a resident of the apartment complex next door. It was as if the camera had captured the ghost of LA’s most famous cat.

All I could think was: don’t move! Stay! Better yet, get out of the parking lot! A leading cause of death for urban cougars is being struck by a vehicle. And in the video, he can also be seen hesitantly walking across the grassy side of the parking lots. (A wildlife biologist says the cat in the video is most likely male, so I’m going with “he.”)

It would be safer for the cat to hole up in the park’s trees and lawn — and wait for National Park Service biologists to find and tranquilize it to take biological samples for genetic testing and put a GPS collar on it his neck so we can walk around with him from a distance.

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Read more: Editorial: California’s mountain lions are worse off than we thought. They need immediate help or they could die

And they’re certainly interested in adding this cat to the agency’s more than two decades of mountain lion research in the Santa Monica Mountains (including Griffith Park), Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains.

Jeff Sikich, a biologist involved in the study, says the video suggests the cat is a young adult and likely male, based on the width of the shoulders, musculature and glimpses of the genitals. It’s the first legitimate evidence he’s seen of a mountain lion in Griffith Park since P-22’s death.

How did he get there? Coming out of the far western mountains – P-22 is thought to have been born in the Simi Hills – he crossed highways 405 and 101. If he came from the Verdugo Mountains northeast of Griffith Park, he most likely crossed highways 5 and 134. There are some paths and culverts under various highways, and overpasses that he may have found. “Either way, it’s a tough trip,” Sikich said of the trip to Griffith Park.

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Read more: Op-Ed: Elegy for a big, beautiful cat from LA

Will he stay? Male mountain lions, territorial and looking for mates, have a vast home range averaging 150 square miles, Sikich says. The cat that would be collared and assigned the number P-22 was about 2 or 3 years old when Sikich captured it in Griffith Park in 2012. The park is approximately nine square kilometers in size and offered P-22 no mating opportunities. But it was all his.

Vehicle collisions and rat poison are two of the biggest dangers this cat will face wherever he decides to live in the Los Angeles area. P-22 was probably hit by a car shortly before being euthanized. And blood tests later showed he had two different rodenticides in his system when he died. Earlier in his life, scientists treated him for scabies, which is usually the result of rat poison.

Read more: Editorial: Rat poison almost killed P-22. We can save more lions and other wildlife if we ban rodenticides

For years, the state of California has tried to restrict the use of several types of rat poison, which often sickens and kills wildlife and pets that eat prey that has ingested it. Currently, Assembly Bill 2552, the Poison-Free Wildlife Act, would expand a ban on rodenticides. The legislature would have to approve it.

To make navigating roads and highways less treacherous, we need more intersections. The Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over Highway 101 is currently under construction. And the Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act, passed in 2022, requires the California Department of Transportation to build intersections where they are needed when building new highways and improving existing highways. With less poison and more wildlife crossings, this mountain lion may have a better chance.

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Sikich won’t say when or how he will look for the park’s newest cougar. And hopefully the cat is still there. People are so fascinated by the lions that they will follow the researchers. “I try to remain as elusive as the animals I catch,” he says, chuckling.

If he wears a collar, he will be the 121st cat to be added to the study. But wouldn’t it be cool to skip that song and go straight to P-122? Some people in the Park Service, including Sikich, think so.

Why not? It does not undermine the investigation. It’s just a reminder to all of us that if we want to continue P-22’s legacy, the best way to do that is by making urban California a little less dangerous to its native cats.

Now when it’s in the news, it’s covered in the opinion section of the LA Times. Sign up for our weekly opinion newsletter.

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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