LOS ANGELES (AP) — P-22, the famed mountain lion who took up residence in downtown Los Angeles and became a symbol of urban pressures on wildlife, was euthanized Saturday after dangerous changes in his behavior prompted examinations, which revealed ill health and injuries possibly caused by a car.
Officials with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said the decision to euthanize the beloved big cat was made after veterinarians found it had a fractured skull and chronic illnesses, including a skin infection and kidney and liver disease.
“His prognosis was considered poor,” said agency director Chuck Bonham, who fought back tears during a news conference announcing the cougar’s death. “That really hurts… It’s been an incredibly difficult few days.”
The animal has become the face of a campaign to build a wildlife crossing over a freeway in the Los Angeles area to give big cats, coyotes, deer and other wildlife a safe path to the nearby Santa Monica Mountains, where they have room to roam. .
Seth Riley, chief of the National Park Service’s wildlife division, called the P-22 “an ambassador for its species,” with the wildlife bridge a symbol of its lasting legacy.
State and federal wildlife officials announced earlier this month that they were concerned that P-22 “may be showing signs of distress” due in part to aging, noting that the animal must be studied to determine what steps to take.
The aging mountain was captured in the backyard of a home in Los Angeles’ trendy Los Feliz neighborhood on Dec. 12, a month after he killed a leashed Chihuahua on a walk. An anonymous report indicating P-22 may have been hit by a vehicle was confirmed by a CT scan, which revealed injuries to his head and torso, wildlife officials said.
State officials decided the only options were euthanasia or confinement in an animal sanctuary — a difficult prospect for the wild lion.
P-22 is believed to be 12 years old, longer than most wild male mountain lions.
His name was number one in a National Park Service study of the challenges facing wide-ranging big cats in habitats fragmented by urban sprawl and hemmed in by massive highways that are not only dangerous to cross, but also barriers before the genetic diversity of the local population.
The cougar is regularly recorded on security cameras walking through residential areas near his home in Griffith Park, an island of wildlife and picnic spots in downtown Los Angeles.
“The P-22’s survival on a desert island in the heart of Los Angeles has captivated people around the world and revitalized efforts to protect our diverse native species and ecosystems,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement Saturday.
Ground was broken this year on the wilderness crossing, which will extend 200 feet (60.96 meters) over US 101. Construction is expected to be completed by early 2025.
The P-22 usually hunted deer and coyotes, but in November the National Park Service confirmed that a cougar had attacked and killed a Chihuahua that was walking the narrow streets of the Hollywood Hills.
The cougar is also suspected of attacking another Chihuahua in the Silver Lake area this month.
Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation said she hopes P-22’s life and death will inspire more wildlife crossings to be built in California and across the country. The nonprofit was a major advocate for the Los Angeles Bridge.
“He changed the way we look at L.A. And his status as an influencer spread around the world as he inspired millions of people to view wildlife as their neighbors,” Pratt said.
Associated Press reporter John Antczak contributed.