Obituary P-22

Date :

December 17, 2023

    People thought he moved through Griffith Park like a ghost. Little did they know he saw many of the spirits that lived there. Like Jasmine Feliz, who died of small pox before the Anglos took her family’s land. Or the spirit of Tataviam, the Tongva scout who fell to the Missionaries. Or the lost souls of the unhoused who fell down ravines of despair. He witnessed these things while sensing the pangs of being among the last of his kind, which fragmented his composition and mirrored what he saw from various perches throughout the park’s 4,300 acres.
    Only a cat could see these things. He was a big cat, for sure. He was measured at six and half feet and 120 pounds by Jeff Sikich, a biologist who first caught him in 2012. Sikich outfitted him with a collar, which beamed his whereabouts into space and back to a facility in Germany, of all places. He was dubbed P-22, an abbreviation humans used to denote his lineage among the region’s other known pumas.
    Later that year, he was caught on film by National Geographic, which, upon hearing of his residency, placed cameras throughout the park like paparazzi in front of a Beverly Hills restaurant. It was fitting that he was snapped in front of the Hollywood sign, wearing nothing but that collar. He was now a star. People couldn’t get enough of him.  
    Naturally, there were stories about his diet. Some of that may have been to assuage concerns about his taste for people. But this is Los Angeles so diets feature prominently. P-22 was not a vegan. He loved deer, but as the Park’s population thinned, he moved on to smaller prey: coyotes, raccoons, opossums, rats, and towards the end of his life, pets.
    He was mostly featured in stories alongside other news about the region’s mountain lions, now endangered. Aside from mating and rearing, mountain lions are solitary creatures and need 30-100 square miles to roam and hunt. Highways, subdivisions, and mini-malls, all designed to keep humans consuming, complicated a lion's movement. As of last count, automobiles have killed seven mountain lions, news that triggered the State’s plans to build land bridges to help migratory animals pass between the San Susan, San Gabriel, and Santa Monica mountains.
    Part of P-22’s mystique centered on his presumed migration from the far western region of the Santa Monica Mountains of Malibu to the far southeastern region of Griffith Park. It concluded that he crossed the 405 and the 101, two of LA’s busiest freeways, before traversing vast neighborhoods containing millions of people. More mysterious was that he decided to stay in Griffith Park.
    The truth was harder to track; he didn’t intended to land in Griffith Park nor did he take that route. DNA tests confirm that P-22 was the descendent of P-1 and was born in the Malibu part of the Santa Monica Mountains. P-22’s journey, however, was purely accidental. On January 13, 2011, he descended the northeastern slope of the Santa Monica mountains around Tarzana before making his way to the Sepulveda narrows of the LA River. While drinking from the river, he was swept in a flash flood and floated downstream until catching ground at an invasive grove of palms and duckweed that had formed a small island. He rested there for two days before wading to the western bank, entering the Park through the equestrian tunnel used by the Paddock Riding Club.
    He moved through the Old Zoo and up to Bee Rock. As day grew so did the number of people walking, talking, running, riding horses, and snapping selfies. He was tired and found rest in a thicket. That night, as the park quieted, he made his way to what became his permanent home, a cave on the northwest side of the park, facing Forest Lawn Cemetery. When the forest rangers learned of his whereabouts, they had to remove all signs for nearby trails to impede thoughtless hikers who sought him out.
    He was inherently a night animal. But he would watch folks from his various resting spots. He caught shows at the Greek Theater. He saw stargazers at the Observatory. He watched the endless stream of cars on the roads and freeway, the roar so confounding. Why couldn’t these people sit still?
    On June 2, 2015, while eating a raccoon, he witnessed a ranger open a gate and let a group of artists enter with materials. They made their way up near Taco Peak and erected a small wooden structure. For a couple of months visitors made the pilgrimage to the sight of what became known as the Griffith Park Tea House. It was later removed because it failed to apply for the proper permits.
    By 2018 he was running out of food. People also began to wonder if he wanted out of the Park. As a bachelor, folks dubbed him Brad Pitt, who was also alone but not lonely. Of course, he had the ghosts, who were far more at peace than the living souls. But his hunger was growing insatiable. He found himself going into neighborhoods. Rats, raccoons and opossums were plentiful in the yards. He once chased a raccoon under a house and got trapped there. That instance required another anesthetization. The biologists and veterinarians studied him, noting his mange, caused by eating rats full of poison. They treated him and took him home.
    In 2020 he devoured Killarney, the koala at the L.A. Zoo. He also began making appearances on Ring cams in the Los Feliz neighborhood, hopping fences. It was a testament to his popularity that the owners, though terrified, never set out to have him captured. On November 1st, 2023, late in the evening, he was hit by cowardly driver. Aside from the driver, no one knew.
    After a gruesome incident at Hollywood Reservoir, where he snagged a pet dangerously close to its owner, rangers realized that he needed to be seen to. They tracked him from his usual route from Coyote Canyon to Hollywood Knolls. His mange had returned. His kidneys were diseased and his skin infected by parasites. He weighed 90 pounds. He was arthritic. Humankind’s unwillingness to live with modesty or moderation led to P-22’s demise, but the scientists took mercy on him. He remains a mascot found on t-shirts. And like a ghost, a symbol of what’s been lost.

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