The Story of P-22 Mountain Lion Piques Interest in This Wild Cat Species
Los Angeles, California's P-22 mountain lion has been a celebrity of sorts and has drawn attention to the plight of the big cat species. Puma 22, as he was formally known, was part of a scientific study by National Park Service biologists and was been dubbed the "Brad Pitt of Mountain Lions."
P-22 was born in 2010 somewhere in the Santa Monica Mountains, where 10 to 15 other adult mountain lions still currently live. When he was about 2 years old, he ventured out of the mountain range, crossing two major freeways and landing in the city's Griffith Park, where he lived ever since.
At 8 square miles, it's a small roaming territory for a mountain lion (typically, these big cats roam over 150 square miles), but he managed to survive for over a decade. Over that time there were P-22 sightings in the Hollywood Hills, Los Feliz and in other neighborhoods around the park.
P-22 was happily able to co-exist with humans until recently when he attacked two dogs in two separate instances. Sensing health issues, wildlife authorities captured the big cat with the hope of placing him in a sanctuary, but they found he was hit by a car, and his injuries proved too great. He was euthanized on Dec. 17, 2022.
P-22's plight shows us how important it is to protect wildlife from urban encroachment. Mountain lions can be found all over North America and, sometimes, even end up in people's backyards. Here are some facts about this big cat and what you should do if you ever encounter one.
A Mountain Lion by a Different Name Is Still a Mountain Lion
The mountain lion's scientific name is Puma concolor. This "cat of many names" is also known as a cougar, panther, puma, painter, el leon or catamount, among others, depending on where they're located.
Mountain lions have more names than any other animal in the world. According to author Claude T. Barnes, there are 18 South American, 25 North American and 40 English names for the mountain lion.
Bobcats, lynxes ocelots, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, Asiatic lions, African lions and tigers are not mountain lions. Neither are black panthers, which are melanistic leopards or jaguars.
The Mountain Lion's Habitat
Mountain lions live just about everywhere in the Americas, all the way from Northern Canada to the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of Chile.
In the Americas, they have the greatest range of any mammal and can be found in nearly every ecosystem, from mountains and forests to deserts and wetlands. As long as they have plenty of food to eat and shelter of some kind, they can survive just about anywhere.
Mountain Lion Behaviors
With naturally low population densities, mountain lions are territorial and typically need large swaths of wilderness to roam. (P-22 was the rare exception.)
Mountain lions prey on numerous animals, particularly deer, which they lay in wait for or silently stalk. They will also eat small animals and, rarely, even vegetation.
They are nocturnal and generally avoid people. They breed year-round and give birth to litters every two years.
How Big Are Mountain Lions?
Mountain lions are big cats. Males can be up to 8 feet long and weigh 175 pounds. Females are slightly smaller — they can be up to 7 feet long and weigh a little over 100 pounds. Of the large wildcats in the Americas, only the jaguar is bigger.
Bobcats are much smaller in comparison — the males are only 3 feet in length and weigh up to 35 pounds, while females are about 2.5 feet long and can weigh up to 30 pounds.
The Life Expectancy of a Mountain Lion
P-22 was a rarity in that he lived to be about 12 years old.
In the wild, mountain lions usually only live about 10 years, as they are challenged and killed by younger, stronger mountain lions when they get older. In captivity, however, they can live to about 21 years old.
Are Mountain Lions Dangerous?
Mountain lions generally avoid humans, but in many instances, we have encroached on their territory, which is quite large. Mountain lion attacks on humans are indeed rare; however, it has happened.
Some, like P-22, make their way into urban areas and have been known to attack dogs. P-22 killed a leashed Chihuahua, and in another incident, a pet owner had to fight the big cat off their small dog, which survived, albeit with a few lacerations.
What Sounds Do Mountain Lions Make?
Mountain lions don't "roar" like other big cats. Their growl is a like that of a large house cat. They can also make a whistling or chirping sound.
At night, those wild animal shrieks and screams you hear are not mountain lions — they are made by other animals, like coyotes.
Threats to the Mountain Lion Population
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the mountain lion as "Least Concern," as there are about 20,000 to 40,000 lions still roaming the Americas.
However, that doesn't mean there aren't threats — climate change (particularly resulting in wildfires) has driven mountain lions from their habitats.
Also, hunting, rat poison and automobiles have contributed to their demise. The Florida panther, a subspecies of the mountain lion, has a population of only about 180 lions.
Conservation Efforts by Using Land Bridges
While land bridges do exists for wild animals, California is leading the way in keeping mountain lions away from humans by building a land bridge over the state's massive freeway system.
Los Angeles has begun construction on the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, which will be the world's largest wildlife overpass, at 210 feet long and 165 feet wide.
This green bridge will cross the 101 highway between two areas in the Santa Monica Mountains, allowing not only mountain lions safe passage, but other wild animals as well. The bridge is expected to be finished in 2025.
What to Do If You Run Into a Mountain Lion
While mountain lions rarely confront humans, there have been a few attacks. If you find yourself near a mountain lion, remain calm and do not approach the lion. Do not run from them either, as it may stimulate their instinct to chase. Instead, stand tall and face the animal, keeping eye contact.
If the lion keeps coming your way, do all you can to appear intimidating. Raise your arms, open your jacket, clap your hands or use a loud, firm voice. They are afraid of humans and usually run off.