P-22 lives alone in Griffith Park, where food is plentiful, but company is nonexistent. Cut off from potential mates by freeways, our majestic mountain lion is destined to be alone for the rest of his life. Who among us, quarantined for months, cannot relate?
P22: The Cat That Changed America, a new children’s book from author Tony Lee Moral, imagines the journey P-22 took to get from his birthplace in the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park. Though Moral’s high-stakes tale is highly fictionalized—at one point P22 becomes pals with a raccoon who teaches him to dig in dumpsters for chicken wings—it is based on a true story. It’s also based on a documentary of the same name by Sabana Films.
Both the film and the book explain why P-22 likely crossed two deadly freeways, the 405 and 101, to make his home in Griffith Park. Essentially, mountain lions need space, but the pumas of the Santa Monica Mountains are trapped by freeways. This has led to inbreeding, which in turn has led to a low genetic diversity. Male mountain lions, who would typically disperse in adulthood, now fight and kill other males, including their own brothers, sons, and fathers. It’s some real Lion King drama.
Those who do try to escape and find new territory are often killed. Just last month, P-78 was found dead in Valencia, likely struck by a vehicle, and a total of 23 have been killed since 2002. P-22 somehow managed to evade oncoming traffic, but it’s a life of solitude with no mates nor future cubs in sight.
The fact that P-22 made it to Griffith Park at all was pretty shocking. In the documentary, which you can watch here, NHM wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana describes the moment he first saw P-22 appear on a wildlife cam capture in 2012.
“It was like finding Bigfoot or the chupacabra,” he says.
Moral’s book is a fictionalized version of P-22’s journey intended to introduce children to the famous cat and the concept of conservation. We meet P-22 as a cub where he learns to hunt and avoid humans with his mother and brother. However, he soon finds himself at odds with the alpha lion of the mountains and is forced to flee. Along the way, he wards off packs of coyotes, slums it with a loquacious raccoon, and encounters strange mangey animals who seem to have gotten ill after eating poisoned plants or rodents. In real life, P-22 was treated for mange in 2014 after ingesting rat poison—another hazard of being a wild animal who lives so near an urban environment.
As you’ll learn in either the film or the book, there is hope for our lonely hunter. A wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon would provide a safe way for mountain lions—as well as other animals including deer, coyotes, and bobcats—to get around. The crossing is expected to break ground in late 2021, assuming all goes well. The National Wildlife Foundation is raising funds through Save LA Cougars, which you may donate to here.