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  • The San Juan Daily Star

The lion sleeps tonight: P-22, elusive LA menace, is captured

Wildlife authorities said the capture of P-22 was relatively peaceful.

By Livia Albeck-Ripka

The mountain lion had long roamed Los Angeles like an elusive celebrity. Sometimes, he was captured in the grainy footage of a home doorbell; at other times, residents claimed to have come face-to-face with his soulful gaze.

But in recent weeks, the beast had seemed agitated. He prowled farther from his home range in Griffith Park into the surrounding human territory. He attacked a neighborhood dog. Then, he snatched and killed a Chihuahua.

On Monday, wildlife authorities captured Los Angeles’s infamous puma, otherwise known as P-22, in a resident’s yard, they said, just days after announcing that they were looking for him. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the anti-social behavior of the “remarkably old cat” (P-22 is thought to be around 12) was a worrying sign of distress — one they might have expected given that he lived alone, so far from other mountain lions and wildlife.

“This is an unprecedented situation in which a mountain lion has continued to survive in such an urban setting,” the department said last week. “As P-22 has aged, however, the challenges associated with living on an island of habitat seem to be increasing.”

P-22 has long been part of the story of Los Angeles. About a decade ago, a National Geographic photo captured him lurking at night beneath the Hollywood sign. But wildlife officials said he had most likely lived in the municipal park, about 7 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, for several years prior. The cat, they said, was probably born in 2010 on the western side of the Santa Monica Mountains and crossed two major Los Angeles freeways to get there.

The cat — solitary, mysterious and seemingly at odds with the sprawling, often-apocalyptic city — has captured the imagination of its residents, as well as the nation at large: According to The New Yorker, he is the city’s “loneliest lion.” The Guardian dubbed him “the Brad Pitt of mountain lions.”

According to wildlife officials, the capture was relatively peaceful. Officials tranquilized P-22 using a dart and took him to a wild-animal care facility, where he was in a stable condition. They said that after receiving an anonymous tip Sunday night that the big cat might have been hit by a vehicle, they found him Monday morning, in the hilly neighborhood of Los Feliz, just south of the puma’s home range.

Sarah Picchi, a resident of Los Feliz, said wildlife officials had knocked on her door sometime after 10 a.m. and informed her: “There’s a lion in your yard.”

Having closely followed the travails of the celebrity feline, Picchi said she immediately knew whom the officials were talking about. “Everybody in my neighborhood has been watching the sightings,” she said. “People are concerned about P-22.”

Picchi said that after bringing her dog inside, she and her husband had watched through the window as officials tranquilized the puma and wrapped him gently in a tarp.

The big, beloved cat, she added, had captured not just the attention of her neighborhood, but something essential about the city of Los Angeles, about its nature as a place where the wild integrates with the urban, and where the vast space can oftentimes make even the most connected of humans feel lonely.

“They feel a lot of empathy for him because he’s kind of on his own,” Picchi said of the city’s residents, adding that she and others had become enthralled with P-22’s story: Where was he going? What was his life like? “There’s this wild animal,” she added, “that is kind of an Angeleno himself. ”

Wildlife officials say that veterinarians and biologists are now working together “to find the most humane option available” for P-22. But many residents, including Picchi, have expressed concern about the beast’s fate.

Beth Pratt, California executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, said figuring out what comes next for P-22 could prove challenging, given the territorial nature of male mountain lions. After years roaming solitary in the wild, he might also find transition to a sanctuary challenging, she said.

“I’m glad he’s now under safekeeping,” Pratt said. “He’s under good care, and we’re going to find out what’s going on.”

Pratt added that she cried upon hearing about his capture.

“But I think they were mainly tears of relief.”

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