Considering P-22’s age, wildlife officials weigh whether to return him to the wild or send him to a sanctuary. Ongoing tests will help make the call.
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Sarah Picchi was on a work call at her home in Los Angeles’ Los Feliz neighborhood Monday morning when wildlife officials buzzed her front gate with a startling message: You have a lion in your backyard.
“Of course, I knew it was P-22, because I’ve been following the story,” Picchi said.
They carried the big cat, who has roamed the hills of Los Angeles for more than a decade and become a celebrity in the process, out of the muddy yard in a bright green blanket used as a sling.
“My husband and I hope P-22 is safe,” Picchi said. “Like the rest of L.A., we’re just rooting for him.”
So began the end of a storied chapter in the life of P-22 and the beginning of another — which is now uncertain.
Wildlife officials decided to capture P-22 after the 12-year-old mountain lion killed a leashed Chihuahua in the Hollywood Hills in November and attacked another Chihuahua in Silver Lake. Long wary of busy areas, P-22 had also started to venture farther south into Silver Lake and stay there longer.
What is P-22’s condition?
The aging cougar is in stable condition and will undergo further evaluation, officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service said Monday evening.
The agencies said they had received an anonymous report Sunday that P-22 had been hit by a car but did not provide more details on his condition.
What is the plan for the big cat?
Wildlife officials are continuing to evaluate P-22 in a “top, top facility,” Beth Pratt, the California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, said Monday. She said scientists are relieved he appears to be in stable condition, but they are still checking him out.
“They’ll have to dive a little deeper, just like you do with people,” Pratt said. That will include a CT scan and evaluations for mange and internal damage from rodenticides, common conditions among Southern California’s urban puma population.
P-22 previously survived a bout of mange after eating an animal that had ingested rat poison. The big cat showed up on trail-camera footage looking gaunt, his tail as thin as a pipe cleaner. Biologists trapped him, treated him with topical medications and vitamin K injections and released him.
At the time, only two other cougars studied by the federal government had contracted mange, and both eventually died. But P-22 made a full recovery.
What comes after the evaluation?
What comes after P-22’s health evaluation will depend in part on what biologists find. When the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said that P-22 was a wanted cat, spokesperson Tim Daly said, “No options are off the table.”
The agencies said in a joint statement Monday that Fish and Wildlife veterinarians and National Park Service biologists “will determine the best next steps for the animal while also prioritizing the safety of the surrounding communities.”
They did not say whether they planned to release P-22 back into Griffith Park or elsewhere. The agencies said they had “already been in contact with leading institutions for animal care and rehabilitation centers.”
It is a difficult question with “no magic answers,” especially when dealing with a mountain lion no longer in his prime, Pratt said. She said the CDFW and the NPS will consider all options, including releasing P-22 into the wild or moving him to a wildlife sanctuary.
“Nobody is talking euthanasia,” Pratt said. That could change, she said, if scientists discover that P-22 is suffering from a “really serious health condition,” which could force a conversation about the most humane option, she said.
Wildlife veterinarian Winston Vickers from the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center said he’s observed other mountain lions change their behavior as they get older and suffer from issues ranging from tooth problems to difficulties in tackling their normal prey.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any video of a mountain lion attacking a deer, but it is a rigorous experience for everyone, including the mountain lion,” Vickers said. “I mean, they have all the aches and pains and arthritis and things that we have … [and] it can get more and more difficult to achieve their normal prey capture” as they age.
How did they find P-22?
P-22 may have been struck by a vehicle, which is how many other mountain lions have met their end in California. While many lions have managed to coexist near human developments, others are not as lucky, Vickers said.
“When they mix with people, especially in some circumstances, they get the short end of the interaction,” he said.
Officials with the CDFW and the NPS had planned to set traps to catch P-22, as they have done six times before for his every-other-year health exam. During those examinations, biologists also change out P-22’s GPS tracking collar.
But the biologists found the big cat before they set any traps, tracking him to a Los Feliz backyard using the location signal from his GPS collar.
In some ways, they were lucky: Finding and capturing a wild animal wearing a tracking collar can be unpredictably complex, and can sometimes take days or weeks.
“It’s up to the cat,” Pratt said in an interview before P-22’s capture. “It could be a couple of days or it could be in a month. It just depends on how quickly the cat cooperates.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.