Mountain Lion Living in Griffith Park, Wildlife Study Finds

A mountain lion, named P22, was caught on a wildlife camera near Griffith Park in February 2012. | Photo: Courtesy Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc./Used with Permission

Editor's Note: It may seem alarming that there is a Mountain Lion living in Los Angeles' Griffith Park, but it's certainly not the first time (remember 2004?) and is likely not the last. These elusive creatures have been living aside Californians for centuries, going practically unnoticed. Since 1890, there have been 16 verified attacks on people, six which were fatal, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. Considering that a mountain lion's range can be up to 250 square miles, scientists with the National Park Service believe it will not stay in Griffith Park, but are taking note at the health of natural systems in the L.A. area. In partnership with Friends of Griffith Park, the following is a reprint of an article ("Big Cat Confirmed") that appears in their recent newsletter. It was written by Miguel Ordeñana, Gerry Hans, and Bernadette Soter. ~ Zach Behrens

It happened on February 12, 2012 at 9:15 p.m. Cameras belonging to the Griffith Park Natural History Survey's (GPNHS) Wildlife Connectivity Study captured a mountain lion moving east toward Griffith Park. They are the first known photographs of a mountain lion east of the CA-101 Hollywood Freeway/Cahuenga Pass within the Santa Monica Mountains eco-region.

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The GPNHS Griffith Park Wildlife Connectivity Study is the first project to evaluate the movement of wide-ranging mammals through potential corridors that may connect Griffith Park and its vicinity to neighboring natural areas. Mountain Lion P22 (for Puma 22) is an important find. Compared to smaller Griffith Park carnivores, like bobcats and coyotes, mountain lions require more space and connectivity. Populations are known to exist in the Santa Monica Mountains west of and in the Verdugo Mountains north of Griffith Park. Preliminary genetic analysis by UCLA indicates that P22 is likely from the Santa Monica Mountains, which would mean he crossed both the 405 and the 101 Freeways. The presence of this solitary, territorial animal is a positive indication that Griffith Park is more connected to nearby open space than once thought.


Currently, GPNHS researchers are using thirteen remote cameras at potential wildlife corridors across the Hollywood Freeway/Cahuenga Pass area which divides Griffith Park and contiguous wildlife habitat from the rest of the Santa Monica Mountains. Cameras are located both on potential wildlife corridors to document wildlife crossings, as well as in open space adjacent to potential corridors to monitor wildlife activity on the edges. This work is critical. Highways and freeways may speed human travel, but mortality caused by collisions with vehicles is one of the most well-known and immediate risks to urban wildlife. When wildlife is unable to successfully cross urban arteries, inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity can result. This may elevate an animal population's chance of extinction.

Initiated in July 2011, the Griffith Park WIldlife Connectivity Study has recorded to date mountain lion (Puma concolor), bobcat (Lynx rufus), coyote (Canis latrans), mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), raccoon (Procyon lotor), and striped skunk (Mephitis mephitis), among others. In the near future, camera stations will be added on the east side of Griffith Park to monitor potential connections for wildlife across Interstate-5 toward the Verdugo Mountains. We hope that information from this study will be used to identify valuable wildlife corridors and to inform stakeholders on how to better facilitate wildlife movement to and from Griffith Park.

Mountain Lion P22 and Griffith Park

P22 moments before capture in Griffith Park by National Park Service scientists | Photo: Courtesy National Park Service

The GPNHS Wildlife Connectivity Study documented Mountain Lion P22, but California Fish & Game and the National Park Service made the decision to radio-collar and release it back into the Griffith Park area.

Wildlife experts maintain that humans have little chance of being killed by mountain lions. They have been studied in areas with heavy human use and have been able to coexist without incident. These elusive creatures are primarily active at night and usually hide out in shady places during the day. A study in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park tracked mountain lions in an area that supports human recreation. The animals were resting right alongside trails and went unnoticed and unencountered.

Attacks are rare and those recorded have almost all been by young juveniles struggling to find natural prey in marginal habitat. By way of contrast, P22 is a 3-year-old full grown male and a successful deer specialist. It is not acting abnormally or dangerously and has already crossed paths with and been sighted by humans in the park without incident.

Friends of Griffith Park is a non-profit charitable group that promotes the enlightened stewardship of Griffith Park so it can survive and thrive in the 21st Century.

Why does the Park need friends? While some attractions in Griffith Park have well-established groups supporting their missions, until now no one has worked to sustain the whole of the Park. Friends of Griffith Park seeks to conserve its essence, its irreplaceable environment, and the history it enfolds.


Support and Acknowledgements

Research for this Griffith Park Natural History Survey project is taking place in cooperation with landowners in the area. It is being jointly conducted by biologists Dan Cooper and Miguel Ordeñana from Cooper Ecological Monitoring, Inc. and Erin Boydston of the USGS Western Ecological Research Center. Principal funding is provided by Friends of Griffith Park and its members, with additional support from Hollywood United Neighborhood Council. Additional project support comes from the U.S. Geological Survey. Community partners include the city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Caltrans, and Mountains Recreation Conservation Authority, as well as private residents in the area.

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Check out Bear 7: http://bear71.nfb.ca/#/bear71

Bear 71 is a 2012 interactive National Film Board of Canada (NFB) web documentary by Leanne Allison and Jeremy Mendes about a grizzly bear in Banff National Park, who was collared at the age of three and was watched her whole life via trail cameras in the park.