P-22 — the late, beloved and resilient L.A. mountain lion who famously crossed two major freeways and became known as “The Hollywood Cat” — got another star turn during the National Wildlife Federation #SaveLACougars campaign’s sold-out celebration of his life at the Greek Theatre.
The program Saturday featured a wide array of people who made connections with P-22 over the years as he roamed Griffith Park, where he made his home after navigating his way across the San Diego (405) and Ventura (101) freeways.
Actors, musicians and tribal representatives joined wildlife officials and politicians to pay tribute to the late mountain lion, who captured the imagination of so many with his improbable survival for so many years among the urban landscape of the second-most populous city in the United States.
“We’ve learned how to live with mountain lions now: He showed us the way, how to do it,” said Alan Salazar, elder with the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, who’ve lived on the land around Griffith Park for thousands of years.
“People roll their eyes a little bit, I heard people say `That’s so LA that a memorial for a mountain lion would sell out,” said City Councilwoman Nithya Raman of District 4, who represents the area. “And you know what I thought? `Yeah, it’s only in LA … only in LA would … his presence delight my constituents so much.”
Watts musician Warren Dickson, CEO of 3rd Rock Hip-Hop, performed a song he composed about P-22.
Actor Rainn Wilson took the stage with a guitar and performed a comic song in honor of P-22, telling the crowd beforehand that “we’re all here to celebrate wild and natural Los Angeles.”
The 1960s doo-wop group The Tokens — including the offspring of two founding members — performed their chart-topping 1961 hit single, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
The event was hosted by Beth Pratt, California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, who delivered a eulogy for the animal.
“P-22 never got to be a mountain lion,” she said. “His whole life, he suffered the consequences of (living in such a highly urban area). … The most fitting memorial to P-22 will be how we carry his story forward in our work. One crossing is not enough … we must build more.”
Photojournalist Steve Winter of National Geographic — who snapped the iconic photo of P-22 with the Hollywood sign in the background — noted the mountain lion has been called the most famous animal in America since Lassie, “but there were nine Lassies and there was only one P-22.”
“In 25 years of working with big cats with National Geographic, I’ve never seen a wild animal so transform a community,” Winter added.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank — one of a trio of local congressional representatives who called Friday for the creation of a postage stamp to honor the famous feline — was also on hand.
“P-22 was many things — our favorite celebrity neighbor, occasional troublemaker, a beloved mascot for our city, and a magnificent creature that reminded us that we are a small part of a natural world greater than ourselves,” Schiff said.
Schiff, Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, and Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, wrote in a letter to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee calling for a stamp depicting P-22 in front of the Hollywood sign — a nod to that landmark’s 100th anniversary.
Lieu followed Schiff to the stage and presented Pratt with a $2.5 million check from Congress made out to the Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority for an upcoming freeway crossing in Agoura Hills, which he said would make things better for local wildlife.
“One of the best ways to honor P-22 is to make sure the lives of other wild animals will be saved,” Lieu said.
“P-22 was certainly an icon in Southern California,” who “inspired us to work with nature instead of against it,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a videotaped statement played at the ceremony.
Free tickets to the event became available in early January — shortly after P-22 was euthanized — but were scooped up almost immediately. The celebration began at noon and was being live-streamed for the many Angelenos who couldn’t snag a ticket.
P-22 was euthanized Dec. 17 after being examined by wildlife officials who captured the cat following recent signs of distress, including a series of attacks on pet dogs in the area.
The lion was one of many Southland-area cats being tracked by National Park Service researchers. His exploits were documented in various media accounts, including his daring freeway crossings, hiding out under a Los Feliz home in a standoff that drew widespread attention — and even being named a suspect in the killing of a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo.
He was believed to be about 11 or 12 years old, making him the oldest cat in the NPS’ study of Southland lions. Likely born in the Santa Monica Mountains, P-22 somehow found his way to his tiny, nine-square-mile home in Griffith Park, separated from his birth area by two of the busiest freeways in the world.
Defying expectations, he persisted for more than 10 years in the smallest home range that has ever been recorded for an adult male mountain lion.
He was initially captured and outfitted with a tracking collar in 2012. At the time of his last capture, he weighed 123 pounds. After he was captured last month, wildlife experts said P-22 had facial injuries consistent with being struck by a vehicle.
Experts ultimately made the decision to humanely euthanize the animal at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, where he was being treated, to spare him further suffering.
“P-22’s advanced age, combined with chronic, debilitating, life-shortening conditions and the clear need for extensive long-term veterinary intervention left P-22 with no hope for a positive outcome,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The cat’s remains have since been taken to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, but exactly what will be done with them remains unknown.
Local tribal leaders — who consider cougars to be sacred — have objected to suggestions the lion be placed on display at the museum, arguing instead that he be buried in Griffith Park.
“Decisions regarding next steps will continue to be made together with local tribes, with more information provided as it becomes available,” museum officials said in a statement in December.
The #SaveLACougars campaign is currently building the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the 101 Freeway in the Agoura Hills area. The project is seen as a “major and critical step” in enabling big cats and other wildlife to expand their territories — and to do so safely, without having to cross major roads, as did P-22.
The landscaped crossing will span 10 lanes of the 101 Freeway in Liberty Canyon when completed in 2025, and aims to provide a connection between the small population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains and the larger and genetically diverse populations to the north.