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The man who discovered P-22 reflects on the mountain lion's legacy

The mountain lion known as P-22, photographed in the Griffith Park area near downtown Los Angeles. P-22, the celebrated mountain lion that took up residence in the middle of Los Angeles and became a symbol of urban pressures on wildlife, was euthanized after dangerous changes in his behavior led to examinations that revealed poor health and an injury likely caused by a car. (U.S. National Park Service, via AP)
The mountain lion known as P-22, photographed in the Griffith Park area near downtown Los Angeles. P-22, the celebrated mountain lion that took up residence in the middle of Los Angeles and became a symbol of urban pressures on wildlife, was euthanized after dangerous changes in his behavior led to examinations that revealed poor health and an injury likely caused by a car. (U.S. National Park Service, via AP)

More than a decade ago, wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeñana discovered a puma that traveled 50 miles across freeways from the Santa Monica Mountains to call Los Angeles’ Griffith Park home.

Now, he’s remembering P-22, Hollywood’s most famous mountain lion, along with the many Angelinos who consider the big cat the city’s unofficial mascot. On Saturday, wildlife officials made the difficult decision to euthanize P-22 after bringing him in for a health check due to erratic behavior.

A year ago, P-22 started venturing deep into urban neighborhoods that he typically wouldn’t enter, Ordeñana says, but then stopped for a while.

“Recently, [P-22] started doing that again and not just picking off raccoons, which is part of his diet, but then going after chihuahuas,” Ordeñana says. “And he looked kind of skinny and his fur was patchy.”

Tests showed P-22 had been hit by a car, which injured his right eye and some vital organs. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service decided the most humane way to end P-22’s suffering was euthanasia — a moment Ordeñana had been preparing himself for.

“I’ve been photographing him for the past 10 years,” Ordeñana says, “and even though he doesn’t know who I am probably, it’s this kind of long-term relationship that has come to an end.”

Miguel Ordeñana, who first discovered P-22, with the legendary mountain lion’s pawprint. (Courtesy of Miguel Ordeñana)

Hearing the news brought back a flood of memories from Ordeñana’s life and the people who have been impacted by P-22’s story.

“It’s giving me a kick in the butt to make sure that I continue to honor his legacy,” Ordeñana says. “And I encourage others to do the same by making LA and other big cities more hospitable and accommodating to urban wildlife.”

Miguel Ordeñana’s children hold stuffed mountain lions. (Courtesy of Miguel Ordeñana)

Ordeñana says his life story parallels P-22’s tale of survival: When his grandparents came to the U.S. from Nicaragua with nothing, they felt ignored and voiceless in the face of constant persecution. Wildlife often shares the same experience, he says.

The parallels between Ordeñana and P-22’s stories have inspired many people who have been historically excluded from the conversation field, particularly among LA’s large Latino population.

As an environmental educator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, he wants people of color to know that their voices are critical in conversations about the future of wildlife conservation.

“It’s been an honor to be able to not only make this a story about wildlife conservation and human-wildlife coexistence in urban areas,” he says, “but that urban wildlife is and nature is for everybody.”


Ashley Locke produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Peter O’Dowd. Allison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.