Less than two miles from the Hollywood star-lined streets sits Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in the nation. The park is surrounded by homes, major city streets, and one of the busiest highways in the country. This is not the place where you’d expect to find a large predatory mammal, but that’s exactly what a team of researchers did last year.
In February of 2012, biologist Miguel Ordeñana was part of a research team studying carnivores and large mammals living in the park. The team set up motion-activated cameras to learn more about the deer, coyotes, and bobcats living in the 4,000 acres. Ordeñana, in charge of looking through photos the cameras collected, found something unexpected.
“All of a sudden I see this huge cat come across my computer screen and at first I thought ‘Is it because I've been in the sun all day that I’m seeing this, is this a Great Dane?’ In the back of my mind I knew exactly what it was,” Ordeñana told Fusion. “I couldn't come to terms with it, it was such a shock.”
Ordeñana was staring at a mountain lion.
To be more specific, a mountain lion believed to be the most urban mountain lion in the world. The city-dwelling creature was temporarily captured in order to test its DNA and to have a collar that sends GPS signals to researchers placed around its neck. It was then released.
Ordeñana said that the idea of a mountain lion living in the in the park is as “ridiculous as hoping to document the chupacabra or Bigfoot.”
The mountain lion Ordeñana saw in 2012 is now known as P22, or Puma 22, representing the 22nd mountain lion the Santa Monica Mountains National Park Service biologists have captured. Depending on what part of the United States you’re in, mountain lions can also be called cougars, pumas, or panthers.
Biologists estimate P22 is male and about 4-years-old. Male mountain lions are territorial and require miles of land to themselves. Biologists believe P22 was pushed out of the western Santa Monica mountains and traveled about 20-miles to Griffith Park.
“The fact that he made it from his natal region in the Santa Monica Mountains in the coastal range all the way over here is truly amazing,” Ordeñana said.
In order to get to Griffith Park, P22 had to cross two different eight-lane highways—the 101 and 405, two of the most traveled highways in the nation. He also noted that other mountain lions have attempted to do this but their trips ended fatally.
P22 has received a lot of local media coverage since Ordeñana first spotted him. National Geographic Magazine is highlighting P22 in a story about mountain lions in its upcoming December issue.
Ordeñana, who grew up near Griffith Park and was born to Nicaraguan parents, says P22 is raising awareness for wildlife in the park.
“It goes to show that if there's a mountain lion here, there's probably other species as well. Reptiles and birds and the like, so it's a great connection and P22 is a great ambassador for LA wildlife and outreach to urban communities,” he added. “"Knowing that there's a mountain lion in a city park in the center of Los Angeles will show that there's plenty of nature to explore in one of the most accessible open spaces for Angelenos."