‘P-22’s spirit’: new mountain lion seen in LA over a year after celebrity cougar’s death

<span>Predecessor P-22, in Los Angeles, California, in 2012.</span><span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Predecessor P-22, in Los Angeles, California, in 2012.Photograph: Reuters

It’s been more than a year since the death of P-22, a beloved Los Angeles cougar known as the “Brad Pitt of mountain lions” whose passing inspired murals, songs and celebrations across the city.

P-22, who was euthanized in December 2022 due to health issues, was the only known big cat living in the city’s famed Griffith Park. So when residents spied an unidentified mountain lion in the park last week, people were abuzz with excitement at the possibility of another cat, probably a young male, making a home in the area.

Reports of the big cat emerged last week in the Hollywood Hills, as videos show it wandering through a parking lot. The National Parks Service is still working to confirm the animal’s presence, but the sighting has nonetheless filled residents with hope for wild things living cheek and jowl with humans.

Researchers are now trying to investigate the sighting and find out who the newcomer could be. Officials say that if the big cat officially becomes part of their ongoing decade-long study of local pumas, it would be dubbed P-122 – a poignant homage to his elusive predecessor, who was known for hunting at night and generally eschewing the spotlight of Hollywood.

Beth Pratt, a wildlife advocate with the National Wildlife Federation, says that it’s hard not to be filled with wonder and awe at the resiliency of wild things. “A second mountain lion may have entered Griffith Park, trying to make a home in the second largest city in the country, showing that nature still finds a way,” she says, adding that people have already been celebrating the possibility of a new lion in their midst. “P-22 is still very much missed by people, and I have been moved by the outpouring of emotion and excitement from people.”

Related: Beloved California mountain lion P-22 laid to rest in tribal burial

P-22’s survival in a 4,000-acre park hemmed in by highways became a symbol of how animals and humans can coexist in a crowded metropolis. The new cat’s mere existence is a potent reminder of this, said JP Rose, urban wildlands policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Like P-22, this young cat has to navigate dangerous roads, development and poisons on the landscape to survive.” He points out that California state lawmakers are voting on two bills this week that would improve avenues for wildlife to move across roads and restrict the use of rat poisons.

Big animals still need help crossing the freeways that zag around Los Angeles. P-22 managed to survive for years in an urban wilderness, but his living area was the smallest recorded of any male mountain lion living in the wild. He eventually became weak due to a lack of food, disease, and was probably hit by a car. Pratt says she worries about this new cat. “It’s not that P-22 or this cat shouldn’t be in Griffith Park, it’s that they should not have to risk their lives traveling there.”

The new Wallis Annenberg wildlife crossing – which will allow animals to safely traverse a busy Los Angeles highway, becoming the world’s largest wildlife crossing – is expected to open in 2026. Though the bridge is in a different part of the city and therefore wouldn’t have helped P-22, it’s a powerful first step that meets a critical need for connectivity in the region, Pratt says. “For me, this mountain lion demonstrates we need to do more – like creating safe passage to Griffith Park.”

She says that on the day P-22 died, she returned to her hotel room and looked out the window at a view of Griffith Park, imagining how the park would never be the same in his absence. “P-22 showed us a mountain lion can live here,” she says. “This is P-22’s legacy. He showed us what was possible. It’s hard not to see this as P-22’s spirit returning and reminding us that the wild world has not forgotten LA.”