P-22 has met his end, according to reports quoting the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Euthanasia was administered at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park the morning of December 17, according to numerous sources. It was described as “compassionate euthanasia” although that term was not defined. In my experience veterinarians often perform a two stage procedure. The first injection relieves any pain the animal may be feeling and is believed to induce a relaxed and comfortable state. After the pet guardian has said good bye a second injection stops the heart. The exact procedure with P-22 was not stated,.
There were indications that several mountain lion advocates were present in his last moments and were able to make emotional goodbyes.
He was tracked and captured last week because authorities at the National Park Service (NPS) and the CDFW were concerned he was declining in health and showing signs of distress. Those signs included attacks on pet dogs.
His health evaluation after his capture showed the worst. He had damage to his face and eye consistent with a car strike. That suspected car strike also caused internal organ damage that would have required extensive surgery. Internal organs had entered his chest cavity. Since he also had kidney failure and other probably age related issues including arthritis and skin issues the decision to end his life was taken.
A memorial service is pending. Details are also pending.
The cat could not know that his life was very significant in two ways.
First, he was one of just over 100 cougars in very long term NPS study of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains. The study is significant because it studies the cats in a fragmented urban environment and helps to understand how large cats can survive is a small urban space. P-22 lived in about a 9 mile square area, perhaps 1/30th the size of a normal mountain lion’s range.
Second, his personality and daring – he successfully crossed freeways twice – galvanized mountain lion advocates and provided the impetus for the Wallis P. Annenberg Wildlife Overcrossing currently under construction in Liberty Canyon. Caltrans says that the crossing is underway and on schedule. That overcrossing project, in turn, is leading to advances in other nations and may benefit jaguars. Quite a legacy for a single mountain lion.
His death leaves something close to a dozen cougars currently in the study, according to NPS records. None are as old as he was and their future remains precarious. It is tempting to think of cougars as rare or immediately threatened.
Statewide, the picture is brighter. California may be home to as many as 6,000 cougars. Many are living closer to humans now and the insights from the NPS study may help protect them. Fourteen other states have known mountain lion populations and there is some evidence they may be reclaiming lost territory. Oregon is thought to have up to 6,000 as well Colorado may top that slightly and be the most populous.
Internationally. pumas havethe greatest north south range of any cat. They found from Canada down to Argentina. Their total numbers are thought to be declining, but it is unclear.