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A mountain lion takes up residence in Griffith Park (Google+ Hangout)

August 14, 2012 | 10:40 am

For the first time,  scientists have evidence of a mountain lion inhabiting Griffith Park. His name is P-22. That's P, as in puma.

"We never had any definitive proof of a mountain lion living in Griffith Park," said Jeff Sikich, a National Park Service biologist. "We believe this is pretty significant, that it's surrounded by such intense urbanization."

The Times will host a live video discussion about P-22 at 11 a.m. with reporter Martha Groves and city editor Shelby Grad. We invite you to join in on the conversation by posting comments -- and suggestions for the lion's name -- below or onto The Times’ Facebook and  Google Plus pages or on Twitter using the #asklatimes hashtag.

Photos: A mountain lion has settled in Griffith Park

Parkgoers were surprised — and intrigued. "That's crazy," said Edwin Bulaon, 42, of Tujunga, on learning of the cat as he finished riding his bicycle through the park Monday.

Sitting in her car reading a book, 27-year-old Monica Marroquin wasn't surprised. "I always thought they were here," Marroquin said.

The good news for anxious hikers and cyclists is that mountain lions, also known as pumas or cougars, are solitary creatures that usually avoid human contact. P-22 has not been sighted near toddlers in Travel Town or riders at the Equestrian Center, and biologists say he's not likely to be.

"I think there's a greater risk from hopping in your car and driving on the 101 ... than getting attacked by a lion," Sikich said.

The journey of P-22 was no walk in the park, even if it landed him in one.

In an odyssey of perhaps 20 miles, the cat had to cross concrete and backyards, dodge commuter traffic and thread an obstacle course of culverts, bridges and roads.

Biologists say the 3-year-old lion probably came from farther west in the Santa Monica Mountains in mid-February.

Sikich and other scientists surmised that P-22 might have traversed a bridge or culvert to cross the 101 and 405 freeways to enter the park. It's possible, however, that the cat sprinted across lanes of traffic — and got very lucky. In a study of the 405, scientists have documented two deaths of lions killed by motorists.

Sometime after P-22 entered the park, he triggered a remote camera set up for a general wildlife survey.

Photo in hand, Sikich set out to catch him. He installed three humane traps in the area. He also set up a camera at each trap, rigged to send any images to his cellphone if triggered.

Nine days later, at 2 a.m., his cellphone rang. He and other scientists raced to the site, a Department of Water and Power property just west of the park.

Sikich used a blowpipe to administer a sedative. The team spent about an hour gathering samples and taking measurements. Most important, they attached a collar with both GPS and very high frequency radio signal technology so they could track where and when the lion made his kills.

They woke the animal and released him.

The GPS function went dead, however, leaving the researchers with only radio telemetry to generally track the feline's peregrinations.

In recent weeks, Sikich has used radio frequencies to attempt to zero in on the lion's whereabouts so he can recapture him and apply a new collar. So far, the beast has eluded him by ranging throughout the park's wild lands and over the ridge toward Forest Lawn Memorial-Park.


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-- Martha Groves