P-22 Mountain Lion Tribute Sold Out at the Greek Theatre

Jade Baxendale, Editor in Chief

P-22, the famous mountain lion who touched the hearts of many, was unfortunately euthanized on December 17, 2022. According to the National Park Service, P-22 had started acting strangely, so biologists working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife set out to capture the mountain lion. When he was found, they discovered he was severely injured, including a head injury, that was due to a vehicle strike. Upon further inspection, they also found many chronic illnesses, forcing them to make the heart-wrenching decision to euthanize him.

How was it that just one mountain lion touched the lives of so many people? P-22 gained popularity largely because of his habitat, which left him roaming Griffith Park near the Hollywood Sign.

An iconic picture captured by Steve Winter showed him in front of the Hollywood Sign at night and this photo gained the public’s attention. Another fascinating part of this habitat was that in order to get to this side of Griffith Park from his original home, he had to cross both the 405 and 101 freeways. This was no easy feat, one that took the lives of many mountain lions before him.

On February 4th, 2023, the National Wildlife Federation held a celebration of life for P-22 at the Greek Theatre. Tickets were free to the public and sold out soon after being released.  The event was meant to last two hours, from 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m., but it ended up continuing well past 3:30 p.m.

Important topics discussed during the event were P-22’s life and legacy, the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing, and what next steps are being taken to protect the mountain lions of southern California.

The celebration of life began with a man named Francis Appiah who played the drum to open the event. After he opened, Beth Pratt came on stage to speak for the first time. Pratt is the California Director of the National Wildlife Federation. She has had a key role in the life and legacy of P-22, and therefore, she spoke many times during the event, and introduced each of the speakers and performers, and gave a eulogy for P-22.

“I’m just so grateful that we got to live at the same time, on this planet with that remarkable animal,” Pratt said when she first came on the stage.

After Pratt spoke, multiple native American Tribal members representing the Tatavian, Chumash, and Tongva tribes spoke and performed. Next to come on stage was Nithya Raman, a council member for council district four. District four is home to Griffith Park, which was the habitat of P-22.

P-22 was often referred to as the King of Griffith Park. (photo: Jade Baxendale)

“You know, people roll their eyes a bit. I heard that and they said ‘It’s so L.A.’ that a memorial for a mountain lion sold out… and you know what I thought when I heard that? I thought yeah, that’s so L.A. Only in L.A. Only in L.A. would a beautiful, wild animal like P-22 come and live in this municipal park and residents would demand and clamor that he be allowed to stay here, and stay he did for over a decade,” Raman explained, before adding, “Only in L.A. would our love for P-22 spur a movement to protect these big cats that would lead to an almost 90 million dollar investment… for a wildlife crossing, one of many to come.”

The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing was an important topic discussed throughout the event. The project broke ground on April 22, 2022, with multi-million dollar donations from Wallis Annenberg that Beth Pratt helped turn into 90 million dollars.

This crossing hopes to protect mountain lions and other creatures who are suffering from habitat fragmentation. Wildlife crossings allow animals to cross major freeways in a safe way. P-22’s crossing of the 405 and 101 freeways was a miracle, but his luck didn’t last forever as the major cause of his death was a vehicle strike. Future mountain lions won’t need miracles or luck. They will simply have to cross a wildlife crossing safely.

Raman finished by committing to minimizing city encroachment into wildlife habitats. After Raman spoke, there were musical performances by Warren Dixon and Rainn Wilson, before Beth Pratt gave the eulogy for P-22. Multiple scientists from the National Park Service spoke next.

“I’ve studied hundreds of large carnivores in my career, and I never could have imagined that one of these animals could have brought so many people together in celebration of coexistence,” said Jeff Sikich, one of these scientists. He later said, “P-22 is way more than a celebrity. He is an important ambassador for urban wildlife and his scientific contributions are many.”

Steve Winter was the next to speak. Winter is the photographer who took the famous photo of P-22 in front of the Hollywood Sign. He recounted his experience taking the photo. “P-22’s story is a miracle right out of a Hollywood movie. He thrived for a decade in an urban park visited by 24 million people a year and millions fell in love with him,” said Winter. Winter’s speech was followed by one from Martha Gros who wrote the first story on P-22.

The Tokens (or rather their children and grandchildren because the original members are no longer around today) set up to perform. (photo: Jade Baxendale)

Many more spoke to the life and legacy of P-22, before a performance of two songs from “The Tokens” including their hit song, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

Multiple congressmen, both senators, and the governor also spoke at the event (not all were in person, including Governor Gavin Newsom who spoke in a video).

“P-22 was many things: our favorite celebrity neighbor, an occasional troublemaker, a beloved mascot for our city, but most of all a magnificent and wild creature who reminded us that we are all part of a natural world so much greater than ourselves,” said Congressman Adam Schiff. Schiff went on to explain his effort to create a memorial postage stamp for P-22. Congressman Ted Lou also spoke, before presenting a check for 2.5 million dollars for the wildlife crossing. Senator Anthony Portantino was able to secure a California State senate resolution for P-22.

Assemblymember Laura Friedman spoke about legislation protecting wildlife. “Last year I was honored to carry the bill that became the Safe Roads and Wildlife Protection Act that will now cause Caltrans to have to study where they’re gonna put wildlife crossings across the state. From now on, Caltrans will have to plan for wildlife crossings in all new transportation projects,” Friedman explained after also explaining the limited ban on certain rodenticides. 

“It’s time that we put our investments where our values are and that’s what this bill will do,” said Friedman.

Congressman Ted Lou presents a 2.5 million-dollar check. (photo: Jade Baxendale)

Throughout the celebration of life, there were many speakers, performances, and videos. This included three elementary schools and many of those who had important roles in the life and legacy of P-22. Also announced at the event was the creation of a P-22 marionette for the Natural History Museum and a limited edition P-22 library card. A representative of Wallis Annenberg also issued a 10 million dollar founding gift for the wildlife crossing.

The last section of the event focused on the legacy of P-22 and what will happen next. Many of the founding partners of the Wildlife Crossing Fund spoke, including Chuck Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Within the next year, my department’s gonna spend 40 million dollars around the state on wildlife crossings as a match to the fund,” said Bonham. Bonham was especially touched by the life of P-22 and had a very difficult time being one of the people who had to make the decision to euthanize P-22. 

“P-22 was beautifully abstract, the essence of the wildness of wild things,” said Bonham. 

In order to carry P-22’s legacy, it is essential that we continue to work to protect all of these wild things.