Mountain lion P-22 unlikely to be released back into wild

Griffith Park's famed mountain lion P-22, who was captured this week for a health assessment, is severely underweight and may have recently been struck by a vehicle, wildlife experts said Tuesday -- adding he likely won't be released back into the wild and could potentially be euthanized depending on further medical tests.

"Nobody is taking that kind of decision lightly," California Department of Fish and Wildlife Deputy Communications Director Jordan Traverso told reporters in a video conference Tuesday.

"Everybody understands ... the importance of this animal to the community and to California. And so if that kind of decision has to be made, I just want everybody to understand that it's not something that's taken lightly. It's very deeply thought about. And if something like that does happen, we recognize the sadness of it."

P-22 was captured Monday morning in Los Feliz by National Park Service and CDFW officials. Wildlife officials announced last week they planned to capture the famed cat in response to recent attacks on a pair of pet dogs and other behavioral red flags that suggested the animal may be in some distress.

On Tuesday, officials said the lion had awoken from the tranquilizer, with an initial examination showing the animal was dramatically underweight. He also had trauma on his face, suggesting he had recently been struck by a vehicle, although officials said they had not "definitively" confirmed that.

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Authorities plan to conduct a CT scan on the animal this week to determine if he is suffering from more extensive internal trauma. Deana Clifford, a senior wildlife veterinarian with CDFW, said a facial injury like the one seen on P-22 raises concerns about a possible additional head trauma. She said experts are also awaiting the results of additional tests to determine if the animal is suffering from other ailments.

"This is an old cat, and old cats get old-cat diseases," she said. "Any of us who had cats at home have seen this. ... We're working through all of those issues and we'll take a totality of the findings into account to try to make the best decision we can for the cat."

Given P-22's overall condition, it is unlikely the animal will ever be released back into the wild, according to Ed Pert, a regional manager with CDFW. The animal's fate will more likely wind up being a choice between an animal sanctuary or euthanasia, he said, adding that experts are "trying to do what's best for P-22."

"There will certainly be a team of people who ultimately make this decision, although I think that our director will, if need be, if there's a tie-breaker ... would be involved in that decision," Pert said.

He said the team involved in such a choice would include CDFW officials, the National Park Service, veterinarians and possibly "some folks from the outside to make sure that we have various perspectives fully understood."

P-22 made headlines in recent weeks for apparent attacks on a pair of dogs. The cat was blamed for killing a leashed dog in the Hollywood Hills and attacking another a week ago in the Silver Lake area.

The lion, one of many Southland-area cats being tracked by National Park Service researchers, has gained fame locally for his persistence and durability, successfully managing to cross both the San Diego (405) and Hollywood (101) freeways to reach his current roaming grounds in the Griffith Park area.


Known as the "Hollywood Cat," P-22 has been the face of the NPS' lion-tracking effort. His exploits have been documented in various media accounts, particularly for some of his more notable exploits -- crossing a pair of freeways, hiding out under a Los Feliz home in a standoff that drew widespread media attention and even being named a suspect in the killing of a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo.

He is believed to be about 11 years old, making him the oldest cat in the NPS' study of Southland lions. He was initially captured and outfitted with a tracking collar in 2012. At the time of his last capture, he weighed 123 pounds.

Pert said the decision to capture P-22 was prompted by the recent dog attacks, while also noting that the lion "started frequenting more urbanized areas than he had historically."

"And so there was clearly something about P-22 that caused a change in his behavior, and so we wanted to bring him in to do a health assessment," Pert said. "And again, we're concerned about the community as well because some of these interactions with people caused injury to people, and so it was both for the well-being of P-22 and the community as well."

P-22 is currently being treated at an unidentified veterinary facility.