The mountain lion mascot of Los Angeles, Griffith Park's P-22, is sick. And it's all our fault.
The story of P-22 is one of super-feline proportions. The cat managed, somehow, to move safely across two different eight-lane highways, a maneuver that ended in a far more grisly manner for three of his counterparts. He managed to remain relatively undetected by humans for two years. The main way in which our species kept track of his progress? A series of camera traps set up throughout LA's Griffith Park by researchers from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
The photo above, taken just a few months ago by National Geographic photographer Steve Winter, shows the impressive P-22 at his prime:
"This story was extremely difficult. The mountain lion is a very secretive animal. It has to be in order to show up in downtown L.A. and have no one ever see it but the scientists, and so it was a great relief when you have a picture like this that can become iconic. You talk about urban wildlife and, boom, there's the picture."
But he could only avoid human-related dangers for so long. In March, camera trap photos showed a very mangy P-22. Compare the majestic P-22 above to the sickly version, below.
Wildlife biologists managed to sedate him and draw blood. They found evidence of rat poison, which experts say probably entered his system after he ate smaller, infected animals. They gave him an injection of Vitamin K, to reverse the effects of the poison, and applied a treatment to his skin for the mange. The LA Times explains:
During nearly two decades of research in and around the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, park service scientists have documented widespread exposure in carnivores to common household poisons. Of 140 bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions evaluated, 88% tested positive for one or more anticoagulant compounds. Scores of animals are known to have died from internal bleeding, researchers said.
The poisons also affect protected or endangered species including golden eagles, northern spotted owls and San Joaquin kit foxes.
Even at small, sub-lethal doses, the anti-coagulants in rat poison can prove ultimately fatal to wildlife, since it makes lethargic; they become unable to respond adequately to environmental stressors or to escape from being hit by cars.
This handy infographic from the National Park Service explains how rat poison works its way up the food chain.
Miguel Ordeñana, a Natural History Museum and Griffith Park Connectivity Study researcher, said that he retrieved this camera trap video of the mountain lion from April 14, several weeks following P-22's treatment:
"At least [it] shows that his health hasn't severely declined since he was captured and treated," he says. His team continues to monitor P-22's health via its camera trap network.
Header photo by Steve Winter/National Geographic; additional photos via National Park Service.