I first read about P-22 in 2017 when I was struggling with a mouse infestation that was causing significant damage to my 100-year-old log cabin. I knew the rat poisons that the pest control companies said were “wildlife safe,” just couldn’t be. In my research for an ethical solution, I came across the majestic mountain lion known as P-22. It was love at first sight.
P-22 accomplished the impossible and successfully crossed the 405 and 101 freeways in Los Angeles to take up residence in Griffith Park, the country’s second-largest urban park, where he was allowed by authorities to remain for a decade. But he also survived (with veterinary intervention) anti-coagulant (rat) poisoning in 2014. P-22 became a world-famous “spokescat” for co-existing with urban wildlife and was the impetus for a California ban of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides and the world’s largest wildlife bridge.
P-22 lived mostly quietly in Griffith Park, the smallest range ever recorded for a mountain lion. He once scared the bejesus out of a cable repairperson when he took up residence under a house in Los Feliz in 2015, making international news. But P was already world-famous, having been on the cover of National Geographic with his impressive beauty under the iconic Hollywood sign for a camera set up by photojournalist Steve Winter.
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In early 2018, I founded Poison Free Asheville. Since then, I have also been a consultant with Help Asheville Bears working to uncover the culpability for debilitating amputation injuries from illegal trap escapes to North Carolina’s black bears. The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has not acknowledged the three-legged bears even exist and operate on outdated, unscientific “management” polices dictated by minority hunting interests. That experience has led me to an upcoming doctoral dissertation on the necessity of reconfiguring the funding mechanism for government wildlife agencies, so that a small percentage of hunters do not unilaterally decide wildlife policies that renders wildlife worth more dead than alive.
The public’s awareness of wildlife and conservation and what they find as acceptable management practices are changing rapidly, but most state wildlife management practices are not. Many scholars argue that during our current geological era, the Anthropocene, humanity has altered all of the Earth and there is no such thing as pristine “nature” anymore — it’s all managed little bits that pretend to be “nature,” which to California’s credit, they have acknowledged and are the current leaders on wildlife co-existence and connectivity.
Unfortunately, the majority of the country’s current wildlife management practices arguing that human-altered spaces, car strikes, or any other human interference be allowed to be “nature” is an antiquated, debunked management strategy and is not aligned with the scholarship or the majority who want injured and ill wildlife to receive emergency veterinary assistance and to be seen as individuals, like P-22 was, and not just as populations to manipulate for profits and human follies. We must honor the spectacular life of P-22 and work toward a new paradigm for wildlife — an expanded, compassionate approach to wildlife management and care that is not anthropocentric.
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P-22 was captured by California wildlife officials on Dec. 12 after exhibiting abnormal behavior and found to have age-related conditions and “significant trauma” to his head and internal organs after being hit by a car. He was euthanized Dec. 17. LA and the world mourned.
I loved P-22 more than I could ever express. He represented freedom, yet isolation, in a world built up against him and his kind. Miraculously he survived for a decade and thrilled his human neighbors with appearances on their home security cameras that quickly went viral. P was the ultimate A-lister and ambassador for co-existing with apex predators that people grew to understand were not the threat to humans they were taught.
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I wonder what P-22 thought when he first saw Griffith Park across the highways and decided it would be a good home. What did he see first? What did he smell? What an incredible day that was for all of us who came to love and root for him. His human-caused inability to meet a mate was a joke for some but P and his predicament were no joke. While he lived longer than other wild mountain lions, it came at a huge cost for him — his inability to exhibit all his normal behaviors or pass on his tenacious, trailblazing genes in an already dangerously dwindling population.
Rest well, my dear friend. You were deeply loved and admired throughout the world and there are many of us humans who are going to ensure your life continues to be celebrated and policies are changed to honor your most remarkable life.
Diana Starr, of Asheville, studies the intersection of human and animal relationships around the world.
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