Remembering P-22 The Famous Los Angeles Mountain Lion that Stalked Celebrity Backyards

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: January 24, 2023
© Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr – License / Original
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Los Angeles is home to some of the richest and most famous people in the world. The wealthy neighborhoods of Beverly Hills, Malibu, and Santa Monica feature sprawling developments with multi-million-dollar homes. Within these neighborhoods, you can find various celebrities, including movie stars, professional athletes, and titans of industry. All these people dominate their respective industries and stand at the top of the social pyramid. That said, one of the most infamous celebrities in L.A. history is not a person but a wild animal. 

For years, the mountain lion known as P-22 prowled the Hollywood Hills. During a span of about 10 years, P-22 garnered a significant amount of media attention. Numerous books, films, television shows, and other art forms chronicled his life and his impact on Los Angeles. Unfortunately, P-22’s life came to an end on December 17, 2022, after agents of the National Park Service (NPS) and California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) captured and euthanized him once they discovered he had suffered a traumatic injury and was suffering with several other long-term health issues. In this article, we’ll examine the history of the “Hollywood Cat.” In doing so, we hope to honor his legacy and draw attention to the situation of mountain lions living in and around Los Angeles.

P-22, a famous mountain lion that lived in Los Angeles.
For years, the mountain lion known as P-22 prowled the Hollywood Hills garnering a significant amount of media attention throughout his life.

©Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr – License

Mountain Lions Around Los Angeles

For thousands of years, mountain lions dominated North America’s rugged landscapes. However, the arrival of European settlers in the late 15th century marked a turning point in the history of mountain lions. Within a few hundred years, humans either killed or drove out mountain lions in much of their historic range. Today, only 15 or 16 states in the U.S. have established mountain lion populations. Of these states, several are home to just a few hundred mountain lions, and only a handful have a mountain lion population of over 2,000.

California boasts one of the largest mountain lion populations in the United States. According to estimates, between 4,000 and 6,000 mountain lions reside within The Golden State. You can see why mountain lions continue to thrive in the state upon examining California’s landscape. Although more than 39 million people live in California, most of its residents live within dense urban centers. Overall, approximately 47% of the state falls under the category of protected land. This means California mountain lions have access to large tracts of mostly uninhabited territory where they hunt and breed in relative peace.   

While most mountain lions live in California’s remote mountains and forests, a small population bucks this trend. At any one time, you can find approximately two dozen mountain lions living in and around Los Angeles. Most mountain lions in L.A. live in the Santa Monica Mountains just northwest of the city. However, one lion diverged from the rest of his kin and created a new home for himself in the heart of L.A. This lion, P-22, resided in Griffith Park for nearly 10 years, during which time he earned a reputation for deftly avoiding the Hollywood spotlight better than even the most camera-shy celebrities. This is his story.

California has one of the largest mountain lion populations in the US
California has one of the largest mountain lion populations in the United States, with an estimated population between 4,000 – 6,000.


P-22: The Early Years

P-22 was born around 2010 in the western half of the Santa Monica Mountains. His father, P-001, was the first mountain lion captured and studied in the L.A. area. To this day, the identity of P-22’s mother remains unknown. P-22 managed to remain off the radar of conservation experts until 2012, when a camera trap set up by the Griffith Park Connectivity Study caught sight of him. At the time, experts estimated P-22’s age at 1.5 years and his weight at around 90 pounds. In March 2012, biologists with the National Park Service managed to capture him and fit him with a GPS radio collar. They named him “P-22.” The “P” comes from “puma,” another name for a mountain lion, while “22” refers to his rank in the ongoing NPS puma study.

To this day, experts and fans alike marvel at how P-22 made his way into Griffith Park. No one knows for sure how he successfully made the journey from the Santa Monica Mountains to central L.A. Such a trip means that P-22 had to have crossed two major freeways, the 405 and the 101. Given that mountain lions frequently fail such crossings, simply traversing one represents an incredible accomplishment. To pass both, especially at such a young age, almost defies belief.

P-22: Rise to Fame

The discovery of a mountain lion living in the vicinity of the Hollywood sign caught the nation’s attention. The Los Angeles Times released a front-page story on P-22 in August 2012. The media craze continued when National Geographic photographer Steve Winter set out to capture a picture of P-22, as the original trail cam footage only managed viewers to get a glimpse of his backside. Winter spent 15 months setting up camera traps in Griffith Park trying to get the perfect shot. He finally succeeded in late 2013, and his now iconic image of P-22 made it into National Geographic’s December 2013 issue. The image and accompanying story only served to catapult P-22 to higher levels of fame.

During the next few years, P-22 cropped up in headlines several times because of his antics. In 2014, he contracted mange, a parasitic skin disease, after exposure to rat poison. Agents of the NPS subsequently captured P-22 and treated the disease with topical medications and injections of vitamin K. The following year, P-22 wandered into Los Feliz, a neighborhood bordering Griffith Park. The situation brought on a media frenzy as local officials tried to come up with solutions to get him to leave. In 2016, P-22 came under scrutiny after the violent death of a koala at the L.A. Zoo. Zookeepers discovered parts of the koala around 400 yards from its enclosure, and P-22 was sighted in the area at the time. However, P-22 was never fully implicated in the crime.

The Los Angeles mountain lion P-22 treated for mange
P-22 was captured in late March 2014 and treated for mange by the National Park Service.

©Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr – License

P-22: Death

In November 2022, NPS and CDFW agents learned that P-22 had killed a leashed Chihuahua in the Hollywood Hills. The mauling shocked both agents and the public, as this represented the first attack on a leashed pet in the L.A. area by a mountain lion. Two weeks later, P-22 attacked another Chihuahua, which managed to escape bloodied but alive thanks to the interference of its owner. Witnesses nearby managed to capture part of both attacks on camera, and several other trail cams and video recordings taken in the areas around Griffith Park managed to catch a glimpse of him during a three-week timespan from mid-November to early December. Such unusual and brazen behavior alerted authorities and gave them cause to think something might be wrong with P-22.

On December 8th, 2022, the CDFW announced that it intended to capture P-22 to evaluate his health. CDFW agents discovered P-22 a few days later in the backyard of a Los Feliz homeowner. After sedating him, agents rushed him to the Los Angeles Zoo and then to the San Diego Zoo for evaluation and treatment. An initial examination noted that P-22 had thinning fur, was significantly underweight and had suffered damage to his right eye, possibly from a car collision. Doctors at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park conducted additional tests, which uncovered a skull fracture and a herniation of P-22’s abdominal organs. Additionally, the doctors discovered P-22 had stage 2 kidney failure, heart disease, and a parasitic skin infection. Given the seriousness of these conditions, authorities decided to euthanize P-22. On December 17th, 2022, at 9:00 am, P-22 was euthanized.

P-22: Legacy

The death of P-22 prompted an outpouring of grief from Californians and fans around the world. Local representatives released statements mourning his passing and praising the attention he brought to conservation efforts. During his life, P-22 inspired several projects, including the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, a footbridge over the 101 freeway that may allow future mountain lions to enter Griffith Park without having to take the dangerous crossing attempted by P-22.

P-22 lived in Griffith Park, an area that spans just 9 square miles, for nearly a decade. Given that an average male mountain lion can control a territory of up to 300 square miles, this represents an incredible example of survival and adaptation. During his 12 years, P-22 likely never mated, and except for a short time after his birth, he never knew the company of other mountain lions. He lived on an island surrounded by dangers and was forced to scrape out an existence on a meager plot of land. Despite these obstacles, he managed to thrive and, in doing so, transformed into a folklore legend. 

P-22 thrived in Griffith Park for nearly a decade
Despite many obstacles, P-22 thrived in Griffith Park for nearly a decade inspiring several conservation projects and becoming a local legend.

©Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr – License

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