Los Angeles’ famed Griffith Park is home to so many unique and wonderful things to see and do, many of which I’ve shared here on the blog, but it is also home to one of my favorite LA residents, P22. Just who is P22? He’s the loner of Griffith Park, king of an island surrounded by freeways, oh, and he’s a puma. That’s what the “P” stands for. And he recently has become subject of his very own children’s book, The Cat That Changed America.
While Griffith Park has its fair share of wildlife, a puma, also known as a mountain lion or cougar, isn’t common, and until February 2012, there was no evidence there was a single one within the park. Miguel Ordeñana, a wildlife biologist with the Natural History Museum of LA County, set up trap cameras to capture images of the variety of wildlife within Griffith Park, and one evening, after his eyes had nearly glazed over looking at photo after photo of coyotes, skunks and deer, he came across a snapshot of a massive mountain lion. Overjoyed he contacted his coworkers, and the next month Jeff Sikich arrived on the scene. Sikich is also a wildlife biologist, but with the National Park Service, and had been working on studying mountain lions within the nearby Santa Monica Mountains. Sikich was able capture P22, attach a GPS collar, and take blood samples. By the way, the “22” is in reference to Sikich’s tagging system, P22 is the 22nd mountain lion to be collared.
Image by Miguel Ordeñana
P22 made local headlines when Ordeñana first caught sight of him, but he made national headlines when he appeared in National Geographic. In perhaps one of my favorite photos, the muscular golden cat was photographed prowling with the Hollywood sign behind him (see the photo here). The photo really set the stage to tell of P22’s amazing story and shine a light on the issues facing LA area mountain lions.
Most male mountain lions need roughly 200 square miles to themselves, and when P22 was born in the Santa Monica Mountains, he was already on someone else’s turf. When young males reside within someone else’s space, it typically ends in a fight to the death, and sometimes father mountain lions will kill their own kittens to maintain their top cat status. Thus, P22 left the Santa Monica Mountains in search of his own space, and in doing so he managed to cross not one, but two freeways, the 405 and the 101, before arriving in Griffith Park, a feat no other mountain lion has been known to accomplish.
P22’s story colorfully unfolds in The Cat That Changed America, a young adult book written by Tony Lee Moral. Moral reached out to me to review his book, and I was actually quite thrilled! Moral had no idea I was already familiar with and loved P22, including the fact that I have Winter’s P22 Hollywood sign photo is my computer desktop background.
Within the pages of The Cat That Changed America, Moral weaves the story of P22’s days as a kitten, and his journey to Griffith Park, meeting various critters along the way, some friendly, others not so much, and even taking a stroll along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The book does not shy away from a variety of harsh realities, from hunting for food, leaving the family den, competition with others, and the very real issue of the impact of rat poison on LA’s wildlife. A little over 100 pages, and written in an easy to read way, it is geared toward young adults, but I think it could also serve as a book parents could read to their younger children over the course of a few nights. Additionally, as the book touches on the issues facing wildlife, I think it would serve as a marvelous teaching tool, and introduce children to activism.
In addition to his book, Moral has also made a documentary about P22, under the same name. The documentary tells of P22’s story in more depth, along with interviews with Miguel Ordeñana, Jeff Sikich, Beth Pratt of the National Wildlife Federation, Dr. Duane Tom, a vet working with animals impacted by rat poison, and many others. It also dives deep into the issues facing mountain lions. The documentary is currently available to rent or purchase here. Just under an hour in length, I highly recommend it! You can check out the trailer below.
As mentioned earlier, seeking his own territory to escape being killed by his own kind, P22 crossed two freeways, but other mountain lions have not been so lucky. However freeways and other mountain lions aren’t the only threats, so is lack of genetic diversity. A study showed that the mountain lions of LA could die out in the next 50 years due to low genetic diversity alone. This brings us to the vital importance of a wildlife overpass. Part of Moral’s book and film is to draw attention to activism and fundraising around the issue of helping these furry beasts survive through the building over a wildlife crossing. Wildlife crossings have already proved to be successful around the globe, including one in Utah that was completed in 2018. The campaign focused on raising funds for the wildlife crossing is Save LA Cougars, which you can help by donating and making a purchase through their store. I recently purchased the sweater, yes, I know it’s June, but it’s just so cute.
Another threat to LA’s wildlife is rat poison, which is mentioned in Moral’s book in a kid friendly way, and discussed in greater lengths in the documentary. Residents keen to get rid of rats set out rat traps, killing rats with poison, however, other wildlife eats the already dead and infected rats, resulting in themselves becoming poisoned, and either dying, or contracting mange, which is what happened to P22 in 2014, but thankfully he recovered. Poison Free Malibu is a group working to end the use of rat poison in the area, and also offers solutions for others.
I love that there are people like Moral working to share information and make a positive impact. Children are the future and it’s never too early to put them on the right path toward helping preserve nature and wildlife. You can learn more about P22 and the campaign on the wildlife overpass on Moral’s website for his film and book here. For more of Moral’s writing, you can visit his website. Want to purchase a copy of The Cat That Changed America? You can do so through Barnes and Noble or Amazon.
Disclaimer: I was approached by Tony Lee Moral, and given free access to a digital copy of his book and film in exchange for an honest review of his book. Additionally, this post contains an Amazon affiliate link.