Tribes, researchers debate the ultimate fate of P-22, the famous LA cougar
The life of Los Angeles’ most famous mountain lion took a path known only to the biggest Hollywood stars: the cougar, who was discovered on camera in 2012, adopted a stage name and enjoyed the status of a celebrity for ten years. his tragic death at the end of last year.
The The popular Puma became known as the P-22 and brought attention to the problem of California’s endangered mountain lion population and their dwindling genetic diversity. Now that his remains are in a freezer at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, wildlife officials and representatives of the region’s tribal communities are debating his next move.
Biologists and conservationists want to preserve P-22’s tissue, fur and whisker samples for scientific trials to aid future wildlife research. But some Chumash, Tataviam and Gabrielino (Tongwa) peoples say his body should be returned intact to the ancestral land where he spent his life so he can be honored with a traditional burial.
In local tribal communities, mountain lions are considered relatives and teachers. P-22 is considered an unusual animal, according to Alan Salazar, a member of the Fernandeño Tataviam Mission Indian Group and a descendant of the Chumash tribe, who said his death should be properly commemorated.
“We want to bury him like he’s a ‘vot,’ like a ‘tomier,'” Salazar said, which are two words for leader or leader in the Chumash and Tataviam languages, respectively. “Because that’s what he was. .”
Likely born about 12 years ago in the western Santa Monica Mountains, wildlife officials believe the aggressiveness of P-22’s father and his own struggle to find a mate amid a dwindling population led the cougar to cross two busy freeways and migrate east.
It made its debut in 2012, captured by biologist Miguel Ardeñana on a trail camera in Griffith Park, home to the Hollywood sign and part of Gabrielino’s (Tongwa) ancestral land.
Immediately tagged and christened P-22—as the 22nd cougar in the National Park Service study—it spawned a decade of devotion among Californians who saw themselves reflected in his bachelor status, his harrowing journey through the heart of Los Angeles, and his ultimate real estate. in Griffith Park amid the city’s urban sprawl. 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.
Angelenos celebrated his life Saturday at the Greek Theater in Griffith Park in a star-studded memorial that featured musical performances, tribal blessings, speeches about the importance of P-22’s life and wildlife conservation, and a video message from Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Proceeds from sales of P-22 t-shirts, toys and prints benefited the Save the LA Cougars campaign. The group was inspired by P-22 to advocate for a freeway wildlife crossing in the Los Angeles area, which would allow big cats and other animals to travel safely between the mountains and wild places in the north. The bridge was breached in April.
P-22’s star went out last Novemberif he I killed a Chihuahua on a dog breeder’s leash in the Hollywood Hills and probably attacked again a few weeks later. Wildlife officials said the cougar appeared to be “showing signs of distress,” partly due to aging.
They seized the P-22 on December 12 in an apartment complex in the trendy Los Feliz neighborhood. The 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 mourned the P-22 as one of its own, with songs, stories and murals shouting “Long live the king”. Commemorative Post-It notes covered an exhibit wall at the Museum of Natural History, and messages with children’s paw prints covered a painting outside the Los Angeles Zoo.
While fame is fleeting for most celebrities, the legacy of the P-22 lives on – though in what form is up for debate.
A natural history museum took possession of the animal’s remains, prompting condemnation from tribal leaders who feared P-22’s body might be taxidermied and put on display. Samples taken during the animal’s autopsy also raise concerns among tribal communities about burying the cougar intact.
“In order to continue your journey into the afterlife, you have to be whole,” said Desiree Martinez, an archaeologist and member of the Gabrielina (Tongwa) community.
A year before P-22’s death, Ordegnano—the wildlife biologist whose camera first spotted the cougar and now the Natural History Museum’s senior community science manager—applied to the state for permission to allow the museum to image the mountain lion remains when he is dead. As a rule, the animal carcass is thrown away.
Ordegnano and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife apologized, saying they should have talked to the tribes from the beginning.
Museum, state and other officials began talks with the tribes on Monday in hopes of reaching a compromise. Ardegnano and other scientists advocate preserving at least some of the P-22 tissue samples to preserve future opportunities for research on the endangered animal as new technologies and techniques emerge.
“We’re trying to find out what we can do differently — in terms of coverage, in terms of our process — what’s possible for us as an institution,” Ardegnano said, “but with respect for the scientific and cultural heritage of these animals. »
Salazar and Martinez, however, do not believe that specimens should be taken from animal remains and stored in a museum forever.
“We were studied like a mountain lion was studied,” Salazar said. – These bones of my tribal ancestors are in boxes so that future generations can study them. We are not a scientific project.”
Beth Pratt, executive director of the California National Wildlife Federation, which hosts Saturday’s memorial and a key development partner wildlife crossing, said it’s important to balance the various arguments to make sure Los Angeles’ dwindling cougar population has a future.
“We need data on these animals, even P-22, for science,” said Pratt, who calls himself the “Brad Pitt” of cougars.
Chuck Bonham, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the P-22 discussion has forced his agency and others to consider their outreach to California tribes.
“I think he’s going to live forever that way,” Bonham said.
Martinez from the community of Gabrielina (Tongwa) said the death of the beloved mountain lion also symbolizes that people must take responsibility for respecting the lives of animals.
“We are wildlife. We are creatures of nature, just like all animals and plants,” Martinez said. “What can we do to make sure that the creatures we share this nature with are able to survive and live on – just like us? »