P-22 is a young male cougar who crossed two major Los Angeles freeways when he left his mother and struck out to find his own territory. That he found his way is nothing short of miraculous. Now essentially trapped within the confines of Griffith Park by surrounding freeways and urbanized areas, P-22 is finding plenty of deer and other wildlife to eat, but has little chance of escape and finding a mate. He also faces threats such as exposure to rodenticides, and recently suffered from mange. While we celebrate that P-22 is surviving, his situation is less than ideal. Building a wildlife crossing will help other mountain lions avoid P-22’s fate.
We'd like to thank the National Geographic photographer Steve Winter for his generous donation of these images for the campaign. Read more about his work on our special thank you page.
A relative youngster at two years old, P22—as he will soon be known to the world—heads east toward the city, having probably come the twenty miles from Topanga State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains. He walks regally, muscles rippling beneath his tawny coat, that unmistakable long tail twitching at times. His leaving home, called “dispersal” by biologists, marks a typical milestone for a cougar at his age, as young males must seek out their own territory. The Santa Monica Mountains house plenty of deer, but those deer can come with a high price if located in the established home range of another male. Cougars can fight to the death over territory, and a teenager like P22 knows he is no match for an older, more experienced cat.
Finding unclaimed space that includes a deer herd within a wilderness squeezed on all sides by a megalopolis can prove to be challenging. P22, however, fully utilizing the stealth that he has inherited from his ancestors over millions of years, saunters unnoticed through the neighborhoods of Bel Air and Beverly Hills, his paws leaving impressions on the impeccably manicured lawns.
Mountain lions evolved in the Americas and, unlike their cheetah cousins during the last ice age, did not venture across the Bering Land Bridge to Eurasia in search of food. Why? Some scientists have theorized their reluctance to follow their kin was because they are ghost cats, averse to open areas and plains. So we might owe the unique presence of a top predator in the United States to a case of collective agoraphobia. That evolution has shaped one of North America’s largest carnivores into a shy, introverted, and enigmatic creature is not without its irony, as Craig Childs notes in his book Animal Dialogues: “So now the biggest, most dangerous animal is also the quietest and the hardest to see.”
Given the elusive nature of cougars, why does P22 chart a course into the most crowded area in the United States?