Tribal leaders, scientists and conservationists have buried Southern California’s famous Saturn cougar in the mountains where the big cat once roamed.
After making its home in urban Griffith Park, the home of the Hollywood sign, for over a decade, the P-XXII has become a symbol of California’s endangered cougars and the decline of genetic diversity. The name puma comes from the feline number 22 in the National Park Service (NPS) database.
The death of a cougar last year sparked a debate between Los Angeles-area tribes and wildlife officials over whether scientists could preserve samples of cougar remains for future testing and research.
The death of the legendary P-22 cougar has left Los Angeles residents in shock. After his death, tributes began to remember him and today a mural created by famous artist Paulo Jimenez was unveiled in East Los Angeles.
Some representatives of the Chumash, Tataviam and Gabrielino (Tongva) peoples suggested that the samples taken in the necropsy should be buried with the rest of the body in the ancestral lands where he lived. Some of the elders of the tribes said that observing the specimens of scientific experiments was disrespecting their traditions. Cougars are considered relatives and teachers in Los Angeles tribal communities.
Tribal representatives, wildlife officials and others have discussed a possible compromise in recent weeks, but no agreement was reached before the P-22 came to rest in an unspecified location on the Santa Monica Mountains on Saturday.
“While we did everything possible to keep the carcass intact, the tribes and agencies involved are still working to come to a conclusion in some cases,” the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement Monday. “What is important is to understand that the Tribes and the institutions involved agreed to go ahead with the burial and the ceremony was moved. We have reached a place of better understanding and look forward to continued growth from this point.”
It is not clear if the specified samples could also be buried with the animal in the future, or if the tribe has agreed to allow scientists to keep some samples for further testing.
The tribal tradition of burial on Saturday includes songs, prayers and purification with sage smoke, according to Alan Salazar, a member of the Bande Fernandeña Tataviam Indian Mission and a descendant of the Chumash tribe.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, where the cougar’s remains were held in the open prior to burial, called the burial a “historically significant ceremony.”
Steve Winter Photography
“P-22’s death affects us all and will always be a revered icon and ambassador for wildlife conservation,” the museum said in a statement Monday.
Salazar, who attended the ceremony, said that the mission of the P-22 will help wildlife officials and scientists assess the importance of the animals’ future.
Beth Pratt, the California-based executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, who also attended the ceremony, wrote on Facebook that the burial “helped me find some peace” as she mourns the animal’s death.
The wildlife bridge over the 101 Freeway, Los Angeles County, is designed to provide more space for cougars and other animals to roam across the spillway.
“We can even now think of the P-22 in peace, with such a powerful and loving farewell to the next place,” he wrote. “Now I suppose a hawk flew overhead and screamed loudly, perhaps there to help him on his journey.”
Los Angeles and Mumbai are the only major cities in the world where big cats have had a regular presence for years (cougars in one, panthers in the other), although cougars have begun to roam the streets of Santiago, Chile, during lockdowns.
Wildlife officials believe P-22 was born about 12 years ago in the West Santa Monica Mountains, but left because of an attack by his father and his struggle to find a mate among the tiny population. That cougar was busy crossing two roads and migrating east into Griffith Park, where a wildlife biologist captured it on a trail camera in 2012.
Their trail ride inspired the Los Angeles-area wildlife trail, which allows big cats and other animals to cross safely between the mountains and the northern desert. Construction of the bridge began in April.
P-22 was arrested on December 3rd in a residential backyard after a dog attack. Examinations revealed skull fractures, from car accidents and chronic diseases, skin and kidney infections and liver diseases. The big city cat was euthanized five days later.
Los Angeles celebrated his life last month at the Greek Theater in Griffith Park in a star-studded memorial that included musical performances, tribal blessings, speeches about life and wildlife conservation from P-22, and a video message from Gavin Governor. Newsom. .
To honor where the animal made its home amid the urban sprawl, a stone was brought from Griffith Park to the grave in the Santa Monica Mountains and placed next to P-22’s grave, Salazar said.