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Scientists track cougar's wild nightlife above Hollywood

The mountain lion — known as P-22 — living in Griffith Park is giving scientists insight into the behavior of an urban puma on the prowl.

October 04, 2013|By Martha Groves

Deep in a poison oak-infested ravine in the southeast part of the park, near Farmouth Drive, they found the fourth and goriest carcass — a big raccoon with bloody limbs scattered all about. (In contrast with the all-you-can-eat buffet of a 150-pound mule deer, the raccoon could be considered more of a protein bar snack.)

It appeared that P-22 had tried to camouflage the kill under a pile of leaves but that coyotes had also feasted. Ordeñana described the scene on the website Urban Carnivores. "It seemed as if P-22 and maybe later some coyotes attempted to consume almost every morsel of available meat to the point where it seemed like the carcass was turned inside out."

"There's a possibility that, even though we say mountain lions are deer specialists, they probably are more of a generalist carnivore than we think," Ordeñana said.

Researchers aren't the only ones thrilled by the unprecedented opportunities P-22 provides with his ongoing presence in Los Angeles' Griffith Park.

Steve Winter, a contributing photographer to National Geographic magazine, has gotten several perfectly framed shots of the cougar on his nocturnal rounds, with the lights of Hollywood as a backdrop. The image featured with this story, which Winter's camera took at 3:46 a.m. on March 2, will be published in the magazine's December issue. Winter's P-22 images will also appear in "The Power of Photography: National Geographic 125 Years" at the Annenberg Space for Photography, opening Oct. 26.

Winter, working as part of a National Geographic program to foster awareness of the plight of wild cats, met Sikich at a 2011 mountain lion workshop in Bozeman, Mont.

"We need an image of urban cats because we know they're coming close to urban areas and small towns," Winter recalled telling Sikich. "Wouldn't it be great to get a picture of a mountain lion under the Hollywood sign?" At the time, Winter said, Sikich considered it a long shot. After P-22 ambled into the park, however, Sikich helped Winter set up cameras, remotely triggered by infrared beams, in locked steel boxes in scattered locations.

Winter, too, has had to deal with predators. "Three setups were stolen," he said. Some Hollywood Hills residents help keep an eye on the equipment and email to let him know its condition.

For now, P-22 remains what Ordeñana calls the "ultimate living ambassador for Griffith Park wildlife and urban mountain lions." But Sikich knows that biology will almost certainly dictate a relocation from P-22's 8-square-mile home to much larger terrain.

"Eventually, he's going to want to breed," Sikich said. "And that might bring him out of there."

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