P22 – The Griffith Park (Hollywood) mountain lion!

P22 is a mountain lion well-known to Angelenos due to his presence in Griffith Park– claimed to be the world's most urban natural park and host to the famous Hollywood sign.  The first evidence of this mountain lion was recorded on remote cameras in early 2012 as part of the Griffith Park Connectivity study (performed by USGS and Cooper Ecological biologists – read more about the discovery here).  Griffith Park is a small protected park area near downtown Los Angeles, and at roughly 6 square miles, is too small to support a resident mountain lion population. Therefore, P22 taking up residence in this part of Los Angeles is very unusual and exciting, and since he is the only mountain lion in the Griffith Park, biologists have many questions about his life in the small, very urban park. P-22 is believed to have crossed the 101 and 405 Freeways as he headed east from the Santa Monica Mountains, but he was not wearing a tracking device at the time. Though he found his own territory away from dominant males, his dispersal is not considered successful because he remains hemmed in by multiple freeways and has no opportunities for reproduction.

Once photographic evidence was found of this male mountain lion, National Park Service biologists set cage traps (with proper permits) near Lake Hollywood, just adjacent to Griffith Park, to attempt to capture him.  In March of 2012, National Park Service biologists humanely captured and radio-collared him, very soon after his discovery. He weighed approximately 120 pounds and was estimated to be 3 years old. Genetic testing performed in the Robert Wayne Lab at UCLA shows that he is genetically related to mountain lions from the Santa Monica Mountains. Therefore, he probably crossed two freeways (the I-405 and 101 Freeway) to get to Griffith Park! That means he likely originated in the Topanga State Park area, crossed the I-405 into Bel Air and Beverly Hills and traveled east to cross the 101 Freeway into Griffith Park.  Now, with his radio-collar, National Park Service biologists are able to use GPS technology to study his movement and activity patterns, diet, and monitor his health.  

Biologists continue to track his movements and as of January 2014, he is still in Griffith Park. Through visiting his 'kill-sites' with the aid of the GPS radio-collar technology (see 'Mountain Lion Basics' for more info), National Park Service biologists have determined he is feeding primarily on a diet of mule deer, but he has also preyed on at least 2 coyotes and 1 raccoon, which is not uncommon for mountain lions in other parts of their range. Despite being in the most urban park in the world, he is not recorded to have killed any domestic animals (nor have any reports been made by citizens of this occurring), and is largely unseen by people that visit Griffith Park.   

P22's presence in Griffith Park has drawn the attention of more than just Los Angeles residents. During 2013, National Geographic photographer Steve Winter worked tirelessly to capture an image of P22 with the Hollywood sign in the background. Despite the challenges of working in such an urban park, Winter met success in capturing not only many beautiful photos of P22 and other wildlife, but even capturing P22 with Hollywood sign.  Read more about Winter's work with National Geographic here.

Photo taken by Steve Winter that was used as the cover of the December 2013 National Geographic issue. 

Photo taken by Steve Winter that was used as the cover of the December 2013 National Geographic issue. 

In March 2014, P22 was captured in order to replace the battery in his GPS radio-collar. Upon his capture, biologists discovered that he was severely ill with notoedric mange (see photo below), a parasite of the skin and hair that is also known to affect bobcats in southern California. Noting his mangy appearance, biologists treated him with the drug Revolution (selamectin, donated to the project by Pfizer), a topical treatment for ectoparasitic diseases such as mange, fleas and ticks. Biologists hope the treatment is successful, but it remains unclear whether P22 will fully recover. For bobcats in southern California, a strong association between mange and anticoagulant rat poison exposure has been established. Therefore, NPS biologists also tested P22 for anticoagulant rat poison exposure. The blood test results confirmed that the Griffith Park mountain lion was exposed to multiple anticoagulant rodenticides (rat poisons). The NPS study has previously documented two mountain lion deaths as a result of rodenticide poisoning, and in both cases, each mountain lion had notoedric mange, the first such cases documented in free-ranging mountain lions.

P22 was captured in in March 2014 and was severely infected with notoedric mange, as clearly seen here in this picture.

P22 was captured in in March 2014 and was severely infected with notoedric mange, as clearly seen here in this picture.

Anticoagulant rodenticides are designed to kill rodents by thinning the blood and preventing clotting. When people put these bait traps outside their homes or businesses, they may not realize that the poison works its way up the food chain, becoming more lethal as the dose accumulates in larger animals. The blood tests conducted showed diphacinone and chlorophacinone in P22's blood, two first-generation anticoagulant compounds. Seven anticoagulant compounds are available for use in California. Recent legislation banned the retail sale of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides as of July 1, 2014, but does not impact the sale of diphacinone or chlorophacinone. The finding of the two first-generation poisons in P22's blood suggests multiple exposure events, and the potential for chronic rat poison exposure for P22.  Additionally, although only two first-generation compounds were found in P22's blood, it does not mean that he is not also exposed to second-generation compounds such as brodifacoum, bromadiolone, and difethialone.  

The connection between exposure to anticoagulant rat poisons and mange is still not fully understood, although new research on bobcats by Dr.Laurel Serieys has shown that exposure to anticoagulant rat poisons does alter immune function in bobcat in a way that could explain increased susceptibility to severe mange. Mange in wild cats is rare and only two other mountain lions in the 12-year study have developed mange, with both ultimately dying of rodenticide poisoning. Biologists believe that the dynamic between mange and anticoagulants in bobcats could be similar for other species, especially mountain lions.

Although living in the most urban park in the world, there is no indication that P22 poses a safety threat. Despite having mange, he continued to spend the majority of his time in the most natural areas of Griffith Park, occasionally testing his boundaries and exploring more urban locations. He continues to successfully hunt his natural prey, which is mule deer.  

P22 has generated a lot of interest both locally and beyond.  To read more about him, see these stories, a small fraction of the press he has gotten!