Celebrities are known for their unusual diets and trying exotic foods. Apparently P-22, California's Hollywood Lion, is no different. On Wednesday night, the lion wound up in the Los Angeles Zoo and is suspected of killing a koala.
Perhaps the oddest fact about this situation is not the koala, but that P-22 is so well-loved that he is unlikely to be killed for preying on a zoo animal. Many other lions believed to have injured domestic animals are killed under depredation permits.
At least 256 lions were targeted to be killed under California depredation permits in 2015, and at least 107 were killed as a result.
Remember that P-22 is a celebrity lion who has been treated quite differently than most wild lions since the day he was discovered. He is protected by public opinion, not true for lions in other places, even in California. While a mountain lion's primary prey is deer, the cats are opportunistic hunters, and will eat all kinds of animals, from coyotes to porcupines.
At some point during a lion's life, the odds are he'll come upon a domestic animal. The majority of pet and livestock owners living in lion habitat do not take the necessary steps to protect their animals from wild predators. Unprotected pets and livestock are an easy meal for a hungry lion. But since the cats are adapted to hunting deer and other small wild mammals, conflicts with domestic animals remain relatively rare.
It's like your friend who eats healthy and rarely indulges in greasy fast food. But every once in a while after a long day and not eating, she won't say no to the plate of hot french fries if they're already on the table. It's not a regular occurrence, but survival instincts tell us to eat whatever is available rather than starve.
P-22 has been living in Griffith Park since 2012. He contracted mange, has been spotted on security cameras near homes at night, and even napped under a house which startled maintenance workers, but he has managed to stay out of trouble despite living within miles of ten million people and their pets.
Part of his ability to stay out of trouble is because southern California residents have been taught a lot about their local lions and have learned to value them, and part is because P-22 is included in a study where researchers can step in when trouble looms. For example, few lions not part of a research study would have been treated for mange.
It's important to remember that most California mountain lions are in serious trouble, and don't have some of the advantages of P-22 and his family in the Santa Monica Mountains.
All of the mountain lion studies currently under way in California have found high incidence of poisons from rodenticides, heavy losses to road kill, and losses on depredation permits, for their collared research lions. Some have found anomalies like kinked tails which point to significant isolation of populations and a diminishing genetic pool.
Los Angeles Zoo staff spotted P-22 on security cameras earlier this year, but they haven't been able to figure out how the large cat is entering and leaving the property. The lion was spotted on camera the night the koala went missing. The marsupial was later found about 400 yards away and had succumbed to its injuries.
It is often very difficult to tell whether a mountain lion was in fact responsible for a kill. Although there are tell-tale signs, mountain lion presence is not conclusive. We have learned in the past couple of decades that lions scavenge the kills of other animals, and even scavenge animals that died of natural causes.
City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell believes this incident highlights the need to move P-22 to a "more remote wild area where he has adequate space to roam without the possibility of human interaction." Though in a state with roughly 40 million people, it's not clear where this human-less space is located.
Others think this is an opportunity to remind LA residents and animal parks how to coexist with wild neighbors. The zoo's enclosures should be lion-proofed rather than send the message that native animals should be displaced for our convenience. The LA Zoo seems to agree, with its director John Lewis commenting to NBC news, "There's a lot of native wildlife in this area. This is their home. So we'll learn to adapt to P-22 just like he's learned to adapt to us."
Kate Kuykendall of the National Park Service added, "This is not a situation where we can get rid of the native wildlife and not expect this to happen again."
Countless studies have shown that removing a mountain lion only opens up the territory for multiple younger, inexperienced lions to move in. Encounters and conflicts can actually increase after a lion is removed. P-22 has been a pretty good neighbor and the best way to prevent any future incidents is to encourage him to stay near deer herds and avoid looking for food near human-occupied areas. This means:
bringing domestic animals into fully-enclosed structures between dusk and dawn
securing pet food and garbage to avoid attracting lion prey into the area
clearing brush from around animal enclosures where lions may hide to ambush prey
installing frightening devices to scare lions and other wild animals away
Additional information can be found in these sections of our website:
We are sending a thank you letter to Los Angeles Zoo director John Lewis thanking him for not requesting a permit to kill the lion, and for disagreeing with those who want to see P-22 moved out of Griffith Park.
Lewis' desire to protect the zoo's animals while coexisting with local native wildlife sets a great example for other animal parks to follow.
MLF is also offering our services to help secure animal enclosures from wild predators and assist with community education programs.
What YOU Can Do
Send a thank you letter to the zoo for not wanting P-22 killed or moved from his home in Griffith Park. Encourage them to consider updating their protection practices for all the zoo's animals and bring smaller critters indoors at night.
Los Angeles Zoo
Attn: Director John Lewis
5333 Zoo Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90027
Please also take some time to learn more about California's depredation laws and ways to reduce conflicts. Mountain lions are struggling, especially in southern California, and changes to human behavior can make a world of difference to their chances for long term survival.