July 19, 2024

For months, Los Angeles residents believed the park had been vacated. Only the memory of P-22, the beloved celebrity mountain lion who had once made it his home, lingered as the city mourned his death.

That was until this month, when an apparent successor — another mountain lion, seemingly bigger, younger and stronger — emerged late one night.

“It’s very mystical,” said Vladimir Polumiskov, who captured footage of the big cat near his apartment complex, which borders Griffith Park, a sprawling urban reserve north of downtown Los Angeles. “They called P-22 the Brad Pitt of the Hollywood Hills,” he said. “This is going to be the puma DiCaprio.”

Mr. Polumiskov, 30, saw the “huge cat” around 9 p.m. on May 14, he said, just as he was returning home from dinner with his wife and their 2-year-old son.

He said he had just parked and was unbuckling his son from his seat when he noticed the creature standing just feet away from his car. He gingerly placed his son back into his seat, got back in the car, and closed all the doors — all while the animal stared at him. “I was shocked at how big he was,” he said. “This guy is just beautiful.”

Safely back in the car, Mr. Polumiskov was able to take photos, and noticed that the cat did not appear to have been tagged or collared by researchers. “How did this cat cross four huge freeways that are always busy 24 hours a day without being noticed?” he said.

Beth Pratt, the California executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, said that researchers were shocked to learn that another mountain lion appeared to have taken up residence in the park so soon.

Mountain lions, Ms. Pratt said, are solitary creatures, and males tend to dominate an area of around 150 square miles each. But as the Los Angeles region has become increasingly urbanized, space for the cats has diminished. “I think what this shows is these mountain lions really don’t have any other option,” she said.

P-22, known for lurking beneath the Hollywood sign (and most likely having crossed two major freeways to get there) was euthanized in December 2022 after he grew old and agitated. He was widely beloved in the city and had come to represent a surprising symbiosis between the concrete-filled landscape and the wild creatures that have found a way to make their home in its surrounds. Mountain lions are generally calm, quiet and elusive, and attacks on people are rare, according to the National Park Service.

In 2021, partially inspired by P-22, California officials said they would build the world’s largest wildlife crossing across Highway 101 to reconnect critical habitats. It is due to be completed by 2026, officials said this month.

Researchers are now working on capturing the new unnamed cat, so they can test its DNA to figure out where it came from and collar it with a tracker. They are also relying on public sightings and footage. Mountain lions are named by number, and researchers are now up to 120, making it likely that the new Griffith Park resident could be named P-122.

“If he captures this cat soon, he’ll skip 121” and go with P-122 to pay homage to P-22. Ms. Pratt said of the researcher charged with trapping the cat. “I think we’ve got him mostly talked into it.”

For now, Los Angeles residents are enchanted by Mr. Polumiskov’s footage of the unnamed cat, which received outpourings of love and excitement after being uploaded to social media. “A NEW KING TAKES THE THRONE!” one person wrote. Another said the news had made her “all choked up and emotional.”

Ms. Pratt said that the new puma made it clear that P-22’s legacy would live on. “Not only do we know how to live with mountain lions, we want to,” she said, noting that in many other states, big cats in urban parks would probably be removed.

“Here,” she added, “we want wildlife among us, even with the risks.”

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