LA's Mountain Lion Is A Solitary Cat With A Knack For Travel

Apr 19, 2015
Originally published on April 19, 2015 2:52 pm

A mountain lion was holed up under a house in Los Angeles for a little while last week, making headlines across the country.

But the puma, known as P-22, was already pretty famous. He's got his own Facebook fan page with more than 2,000 likes, plus a couple of Twitter accounts.

His range is the 8 square miles of LA's Griffith Park, on the eastern edge of the Santa Monica Mountains, surrounded on all sides by development.

Jeff Sikich, a biologist with the National Park Service, captured P-22 in 2012 in Griffith Park and released him with a GPS radio collar. Sikich tells NPR's Rachel Martin that through tissue sampling, he can trace the puma's origins.

"The genetics show that he was born in the Santa Monica Mountains," he says. "Which is pretty amazing, because that meant, to get to Griffith Park, he had to cross two major freeways — the 405 Freeway, navigate through the Hollywood Hills, and then cross the 101 Freeway."


Interview Highlights

On P-22's solitary lifestyle

We've seen that in our core study area in the Santa Monica Mountains every young male before P-22 ended up dying when they got dispersed from mom. They either got hit on the freeway or killed by the adult male, so P-22 did find a way out to an area where there is no adult male. There seems to be plenty of prey, plenty of deer for him.

On his Griffith Park home

He has the smallest home range of any adult male, to our knowledge, ever recorded, so in a matter of time he might choose to leave, or attempt to leave, in order to find a mate.

On P-22's name

P is for puma; he's the 22nd puma caught in our study. Just because we have this numbering system does not mean we're not attached to these animals. I tell people to call them any name you like.

Who's to say what a good or a bad name is, right? I think P-22 sounds perfect. It's short. It's commanding. It rolls off the tongue. I think it fits him perfectly.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A mountain lion holed up under a house in Los Angeles for a little while this past week and made headlines across the country. But the puma known as P-22 was already pretty famous. I mean, he's got his own Facebook page. Jeff Sikich joins me now. He's a biologist with the National Park Service. Welcome to the program, Jeff.

JEFF SIKICH: Hi, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So when did you first encounter P-22, as he's called?

SIKICH: When I captured him back in March of 2012 is the first time I saw him.

MARTIN: And what were the circumstances?

SIKICH: Yeah, so Griffith Park is located at the eastern edge of our Santa Monica Mountains, and it's a very small park in terms for a mountain lion. It's roughly eight square miles completely surrounded by development. And there was a study going on in Griffith Park at the time to identify what animals were in there. And they got a photo of a mountain lion and let us know. So we were extremely interested that a mountain lion was in this small little park. So we set out to attempt to capture it and place a GPS radio collar on it to learn about what this animal is doing.

MARTIN: Is he rare? I mean, are there a lot of mountain lions in that area?

SIKICH: He is the only one since our study started in 2002 that we know of that has occupied Griffith Park.

MARTIN: So you're saying he's all alone in this park? There are no other mountain lions?

SIKICH: There are no other lions that we know of in Griffith Park. When we captured him, we also took samples - blood samples, tissue. And the genetics show that he was born in the Santa Monica Mountains, which is pretty amazing because that meant to get to Griffith Park, he had to cross two major freeways - the 405 freeway, navigate through the Hollywood hills and then cross the 101 freeway to get into Griffith Park.

MARTIN: So what's going to happen to him? I mean, he's by himself. Is he going to partner up with - he doesn't have the option to partner up with anyone.

SIKICH: Exactly. So as a young male, it was great, right. So mountain lions are solitary animals, especially young males when they're disbursing. They're looking for an area outside that of an adult male. And we've seen that in our core study area, the Santa Monica Mountains. Every young male, before P-22, ended up dying when they dispersed from ma. They either got hit on the freeway or killed by the adult male. So P-22 did find a way out to an area where there is no adult males, there seems to be plenty of prey, plenty of deer for him. But he is an adult now. He has the smallest home range of any adult male, to our knowledge, ever recorded. So in a matter of time, you know, he might choose to leave or attempt to leave in order to find some mates.

MARTIN: Has anyone thought about giving him a better name than P-22?

SIKICH: (Laughter). Yeah so that's a question I get often.

MARTIN: I'm sure.

SIKICH: Why do we call him P-22? So that's - P is for puma. He's the 22nd puma caught in our study. And, you know, just because we had this numbering system does not mean we're not attached to these animals. And I tell people, feel free to call him any name you like. And I'll add to that, you know, who's to say what a good or a bad name is, right?

MARTIN: (Laughter).

SIKICH: I think P-22 sounds perfect. It's short, it's commanding, it rolls off the tongue.

MARTIN: Fair enough (laughter).

SIKICH: So I think it fits him perfectly.

MARTIN: Jeff Sikich is a biologist with the National Park Service in the Santa Monica Mountains. Jeff, thanks so much for talking with us.

SIKICH: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.