P-22, late LA mountain lion, makes a wildlife crossing possible Beloved Hollywood mountain lion P-22 was euthanized over the weekend due to health issues. His story highlights both the plight of urban wildlife and groundbreaking efforts to protect it.
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The legacy of Hollywood mountain lion P-22 lives on in wildlife conservation efforts

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A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Los Angeles is mourning one of its celebrities. No, not an actor or athlete, but he was definitely an influencer. We're talking about a famous mountain lion known as P-22. He spent the majority of his life alone, wandering LA's Griffith Park, adjacent to the world-famous Hollywood sign. I met up with wildlife advocate Beth Pratt in Agoura Hills, near where P-22 was born in the Santa Monica Mountains.

BETH PRATT: It's a remarkable story. I mean, nobody would predict that a mountain lion would march 50 miles across two of the busiest freeways, through Beverly Hills, close to Hollywood Boulevard, to make a home under the Hollywood sign. You just wouldn't predict that. And that's what I love about wildlife.

MARTÍNEZ: But in one of his treks this month, while already suffering from a series of health issues, P-22 was likely struck by a vehicle. The lion, believed to be 12 years old, was euthanized over the weekend. However, his legacy lives on. Pratt says P-22 has become the poster puma for the area's mountain lions, who are struggling to survive.

PRATT: What's LA without P-22? And listen, his legacy is solid. That cat, through inspiring us, showed us what was possible. He made us more human. He made us realize, even in the second-largest city in the country, that we needed a connection to wildness.

MARTÍNEZ: What makes P-22 so special is that in order to get to Griffith Park, he had to cross two major freeways smack dab in the middle of Los Angeles. His miraculous journey has since inspired construction of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over busy Highway 101, running parallel to the Santa Monica Mountains.

PRATT: Where we're standing's a little deceiving 'cause you're standing here like, oh, we're in nature - plenty of open space. But on that side of the hill is Agoura. On that side of the hill is Calabasas, where the Kardashians live. We are in the middle of immensely dense human development and population.

MARTÍNEZ: Which is shrinking their habitat, forcing local lions to inbreed. They're also facing other threats, such as drought, wildfires and traffic. The bridge is expected to provide those lions a safe, quiet place to cross the freeway so that they can connect with the lions who live on the other side.

PRATT: The No. 1 thing you need to succeed for a successful wildlife crossing is protected space on both sides of the freeway.

MARTÍNEZ: However, what if you lead a puma to a wildlife crossing, but they don't want to cross?

Let me ask you this then, Beth, 'cause we've been standing here a few minutes. We can't get away from the sound of the freeway and all those cars. How are the mountain lions going to approach and not hear what we're hearing?

PRATT: It's a really good question. And this is because of this traffic and the urban nature of this crossing. We have to mitigate for things that some other crossings don't have to, like light and sound, because the animals not only have to feel good crossing it. On the approach, you have to, again, make them feel like they're not approaching a freeway. First of all, it is going to be a vegetated sound wall on top of the crossing.

MARTÍNEZ: A sound wall. Wow.

PRATT: Yeah. It's beautiful. So there will be vegetation on the sides as well. This will help with sound while the animals are on the crossing so that when the animals are approaching it, the sound will be minimized as well.

MARTÍNEZ: Pratt says the freeway has long been a genetic barrier, leading the lions into an extinction vortex. When it opens in 2025, it'll be the largest wildlife crossing in the world, with the hope that from then on, no other local pumas will ever have to lead the same kind of lonely life that P-22 had.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "P-22")

MICHAEL KAISER: (Singing) I'm P-22, P-22.

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