The life of Los Angeles mountain lion P-22 showed the desire — and, in many respects, ability — of Angelenos to live with the wildlife in their midst. As memorials spring up from the Los Angeles Zoo to the Greek Theater, UCLA researchers examine the lessons that can be learned from this celebrity cougar and ponder how wildlife can live and thrive in urban areas.
Imagining wildlife-inclusive urban planning
Heise is the Marcia H. Howard Professor of Literary Studies in the UCLA Department of English and director of the Lab for Environmental Narrative Strategies at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. She has published widely on environmental storytelling and wrote and produced the documentary “Urban Ark Los Angeles,” about human-created urban ecosystems, biodiversity and opportunities for establishing “sanctuary cities” for endangered species.
“P-22’s life and death are extraordinarily visible reminders that our city, a habitat built by and for humans, is coinhabited and jointly used by many nonhumans. Many of them are not visible to us, or not readily identifiable, but they’re our fellow citizens nonetheless. One of the most exciting challenges for the environmental community at UCLA and beyond is to imagine what urban planning, architecture and landscape design might look like with that more-than-human community in mind.”
Lessons from P-22
Daniel T. Blumstein
Blumstein is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a member of the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. A behavioral ecologist and conservation scientist, he studies human-wildlife interactions to further conserve biodiversity.
“P-22 showed the world that we can coexist with a particularly charismatic, large carnivore in an urban megalopolis. The challenge moving forward is to ensure that urban carnivores, who play an essential ecological role, have the space to coexist with us.”
Respecting Native perspectives and the remains of ancestors
Speed, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, is director of the American Indian Studies Center and a professor of gender studies and anthropology at UCLA. She led an effort with the Gabrielino-Tongva tribe to share access to and stewardship of some UCLA parks.
“Native American peoples have had to live with their deceased relatives being stored in boxes and cupboards and ‘studied’ for many decades. For the Indigenous peoples of Los Angeles, who have lived among them for millennia, mountain lions are relatives. The possibility of P-22 facing a similar fate to so many of their ancestors is painful, and Native perspectives should be respected and included as decisions are made.”
Making wildlife at home in megacities
Riley is branch chief for wildlife for the National Park Service at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and an associate adjunct professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA. As the leader of a 20-year NPS study of L.A. mountain lions, including P-22, Riley has expertise on the dangers of rat poison to large cats, the risks cougars take in response to wildfires and the need for wildlife crossings to prevent road deaths and inbreeding.
“P-22 showed us both what wild animals — up to and including large carnivores such as mountain lions — must do and what they are capable of doing to survive in a megacity such as Los Angeles. P-22 occupied the smallest home range ever recorded for an adult male mountain lion — an amazing feat, and one that demonstrated that wildlife, even big cats, can coexist with dense human populations. There is much that we can do, emboldened by P-22’s fascinating story, to ensure that L.A. and other big cities will continue to harbor the full range of local wildlife.”
A celebrity cat who inspired research
Huffmeyer, a postdoctoral researcher in the Wayne Lab at UCLA and National Geographic Explorer, studies fertility in large cat species and was the lead author of a recent study of inbreeding among Southern California mountain lions.
“When P-22 became a legend and a celebrity, mountain lion conservation in L.A. became a topic people were more excited to talk about and fund, including novel studies which found evidence of severe inbreeding. UCLA research, along with the National Park Service and other agencies, helped convince local governments that a wildlife crossing was needed, but it was P-22 who won the hearts of the people and really got the ball rolling.”
Protecting misunderstood mammals
Joseph Nikko Curti
Curti, a UCLA doctoral student, uses whole-genome sequencing to inform conservation efforts for California’s wildlife species. One of his projects focuses on the ecology, movement and genomics of the Yuma myotis bat species. Another examines California quail genomics to identify barriers to quail movement and gene flow in Southern California and to understand how ground-dwelling birds might benefit from the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing.
“In large cities such as Los Angeles, bats face conflicts with humans caused by unfounded fear of rabies. Bats cause fewer cases of rabies than dogs, but when people find bats in homes and public structures, they hire pest control companies to remove them, often during vulnerable life-history stages, such as bat maternity season. What people don’t understand is how important bats are to keep insect pests in check and to pollinate many of our favorite foods, like mangos, guavas, agave (tequila) and many more. We must learn to embrace, live with and protect bats before it is too late.”
How the rugged past still survives in Los Angeles and California
Newton is a veteran journalist, author and teacher. A lecturer at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, he is also the editor-in-chief of the UCLA policy magazine Blueprint and has taught journalism ethics at UCLA. In his 25 years at the Los Angeles Times, Newton worked as a reporter, editor, bureau chief, columnist and, from 2007 through 2010, editor of the editorial pages.
“P-22 was a connection to a wilder, more rugged time in this part of the world, a poignant reminder of the danger that once was Los Angeles, and, more broadly, California. We are a state that honors the grizzly on its flag but has no grizzlies left. He was here, and his improbable presence, his durable determination to survive was reason enough to feel that he belonged — not to us but with us.”
Despite risks from fires and freeways, cougars can live among us
Blakey, a postdoctoral fellow with the La Kretz Center for California Conservation at UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, is also an assistant professor at Cal Poly Pomona. She was the lead author of a study by UCLA and the National Park Service study showing that wildfires drive Los Angeles mountain lions to take deadly risks.
“A mountain lion’s city life is fraught with risks, such as road collisions, territorial encounters, human persecution and wildfire. While the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing represents a big step towards preserving the L.A. mountain lion population, we continue to learn so much about these animals and how they behave in spaces shared with humans.”