The tribes hide the famous Southern California mountain lion, P-22

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tribal leaders, scientists and conservationists buried Southern California’s most famous mountain lion Saturday in the mountains where a big cat once roamed.

After living in the city’s Griffith Park — home of the Hollywood Sign — for the past decade, P-22 has become a symbol of California’s endangered mountain lions and their dwindling genetic diversity. The name mountain lion comes from the 22nd cougar in the National Park Service study.

Death of a cougar at the end of last year sparked a debate between Los Angeles-area tribes and wildlife officials can scientists store samples of mountain lion remains for future testing and research.

Some members of the Chumash, Tataviam and Gabrielina (Tongwa) peoples argued that the samples taken during the autopsy should be buried with the rest of his body in the ancestral lands where he had spent his life. Some tribal elders said conservation samples for scientific testing it would be disrespectful to their traditions. Mountain lions are considered relatives and teachers in Los Angeles tribal communities.

Tribal officials, wildlife officials and others discussed a potential compromise in recent weeks, but no consensus was reached before the P-22 was buried in an unspecified location in the Santa Monica Mountains on Saturday.

“Although we did our best to keep the carcass intact, the tribes and agencies involved are still working to determine some of the specimens,” the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement Monday. “It’s important to understand that the tribes and agencies involved in this have agreed to move forward with the funeral, and it was a moving ceremony. We have come to a better place of understanding and look forward to continuing to grow from there.”

It was not clear whether the unidentified samples could also be buried with the animal in the future, or whether the tribes agreed to allow scientists to keep some samples for further testing.

Saturday’s traditional tribal funeral included songs, prayers and purification with sage smoke, according to Alan Salazar, a member of the Mission Fernando Tataviam Indian tribe and a descendant of the Chumash tribe.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where the cougar’s remains were stored in a freezer before burial, called the burial a “historically significant ceremony.”

“P-22’s death has affected us all and he will forever remain a revered icon and ambassador for wildlife conservation,” the museum said in a statement on Monday.

Salazar, who attended the ceremony, said he believes P-22’s legacy will help wildlife officials and scientists understand the importance of treating animals with respect going forward.

Beth Pratt, executive director of the California National Wildlife Federation, who also attended the ceremony, wrote on Facebook that the smell “helped me achieve a degree of peace” as she experiences the death of an animal.

“I can also imagine the P-22 in peace now, with such a powerful and caring send off to the next location,” she wrote. “As we laid him to rest, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead and screeched loudly, perhaps to help him on his journey.”

Los Angeles and Mumbai are the only major cities in the world where big cats have been regularly present for years — mountain lions in one, leopards in the other — although cougars have begun to roam the streets of Santiago, Chile, during the pandemic adjustment.

Wildlife officials believe P-22 was born about 12 years ago in the western Santa Monica Mountains, but left the area because of his father’s aggression and his own struggle to find a mate amid a declining population. This forced the cougar to cross two busy freeways and migrate east into Griffith Park, where a wildlife biologist captured it on camera in 2012.

His journey on the freeways was inspiring wild animal crossing through los angeles a highway that will allow big cats and other animals to pass safely between the mountains and the wilds of the north. The bridge was breached in April.

P-22 was captured last December in a residential yard after being attacked by dogs. An examination revealed a skull fracture — the result of a car collision — and chronic diseases, including skin infections and kidney and liver diseases. The city’s cherished big cat was euthanized five days later.

Los Angeles celebrated his life last month at the Greek Theater in Griffith Park in a star-studded memorial that included musical performances, tribal blessings, speeches about the importance of P-22’s life and wildlife conservation, and a video message from Gov. Gavin Newsom.

To honor the spot where the animal settled amid urban development, a boulder from Griffith Park was brought to the grave in the Santa Monica Mountains and placed next to P-22’s grave, Salazar said.

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