Big Cat Fever Returns To L.A. As Mountain Lion Possibly Spotted In Hollywood Hills

A possible mountain lion sighting in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, captured by Vladimir Polumiskov.
A possible mountain lion sighting in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, captured by Vladimir Polumiskov. Vladimir Polumiskov

The unconfirmed sighting of a mountain lion in a famous Los Angeles park has fueled a fresh bout of big cat fever for Angelenos.

Reports from last week suggest that a lion was spotted padding around a parking lot on the western edge of Griffith Park, the same location a beloved cougar called P-22 prowled for a decade, with the Hollywood sign in the background.

Video taken by Vladimir Polumiskov appears to show the newly sighted animal minding its own business. Polumiskov says he went back a second time to find the suspected male still there. “He is a beautiful, beautiful animal,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

The apparent sighting, which has yet to be verified by the National Park Service, has triggered fond memories. P-22, first spotted in 2012, became a California celebrity, and a symbol of efforts to protect the local community of big cats from the risks posed by urban life.

In December 2022, local officials confirmed they’d euthanized P-22 after he was hit by a vehicle ― a common problem amid the city’s freeways and traffic. His death caused an outpouring of appreciation: Thousands of people attended a P-22 memorial last year, which included musical performances and dances in his honor. Some attendees bore tattoos to mark their affection for the animal.

The prospect of new local megafauna has thrilled conservationists in the area, where a parks service project to better understand and protect mountain lions has been running since 2002.

Estimates suggest as many as 15 lions roam the Santa Monica Mountains at any given time ― but the newbie may be the only one to have broken from their natural habit and found a home at Griffith Park. Beth Pratt, regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, explained that residing in the park is “a very urban existence.”

“Watch ‘La La Land,’ watch any L.A. movie,” Pratt, who was perhaps P-22’s biggest cheerleader, told HuffPost. “Griffith Park is right there in the middle of it. This is not a cat living on the outskirts of L.A. The Hollywood sign is there ... Brad Pitt lives right on the border. When P-22 was alive, he’d go into Universal Studios, he was walking down Sunset Boulevard.”

The name P-22 needs an explanation. “P” stands for “puma,” and the number indicates how many big cats have been collared and are being monitored by the National Park Service. The latest animal sighting, if confirmed, would be listed as P-122. The echo of the earlier cat’s designation hasn’t been lost on wildlife campaigners.

The mountain lion known as P-22, photographed in the Griffith Park area near downtown Los Angeles, in 2014.
The mountain lion known as P-22, photographed in the Griffith Park area near downtown Los Angeles, in 2014. via Associated Press

Pratt hopes P-122 will have the same impact as its forebear, who represented something more than an animal “living large in the Hollywood Hills.”

“He really changed people’s preconceptions of what it means to live with wildlife, where wildlife can be. And that’s been a lasting movement,” she said. “So when this cat showed up, I think it was even further proof of the wonder of wildlife still living among us in L.A., and people hunger for that.”

Pratt ― who has successfully campaigned for wildlife crossings to be built over highways ― urged amateur wildlife watchers to tread carefully around the big cats. But she is adamant that humans and mountain lions can live cheek-by-jowl.

“What P-22 taught us was that these animals aren’t sitting in the woods ready to leap out at us,” she said. “For 10 years he was a neighbor. The neighbor you didn’t see much of, but it was kind of cool when you did and you’d wave ‘hi.’ And he went on his way and you went on your way. I think it taught us coexistence is possible.”

The National Park Service is taking the possible sighting seriously, and is continuing to review Polumiskov’s video, spokesperson Ana Beatriz Cholo confirmed to HuffPost. But it could take months to tag the charismatic cat. In any case, she said, it is “exciting.”

“It’s unusual,” Cholo said. “P-22 was in Griffin Park for a number of years, and I suppose we weren’t expecting to see another so soon.”