A mountain lion that killed a Chihuahua on its leash after quietly stalking a dog walker in the Hollywood Hills earlier this month is the famed big cat P-22, the National Park Service confirmed Monday.
For over a decade, the puma has captivated Angelenos, recorded by doorbell and security cameras while strolling in and around Griffith Park and on residential sidewalks. With the large radio tracking collar around his neck, P-22 is instantly recognizable as he roams the hills. But the feline celebrity recently reminded the world that he’s still a wild animal.
P-22 killed the Chihuahua as it was walking on a leash with a dog walker on Nov. 9, according to the National Park Service, which monitors mountain lions living in the region.
“Based on video footage and GPS tracking collar data, we know P-22 was the animal responsible for the attack,” the agency said in a statement on Monday
But the chances of a human being attacked by the cougar are still very slim, according to experts.
“You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion,” said Beth Pratt, regional executive director of the nonprofit National Wildlife Federation. “But there is never zero risk.”
Grainy video of the attack, first reported by KTLA-TV, showed the dog walker with two dogs being followed by a mountain lion in the narrow streets of the Hollywood Hills. Staying low to the ground, the mountain lion stalked the group before it attacked Piper, a Chihuahua mix, according to the station.
The attack occurred near the Hollywood Reservoir, the National Park Service said in a statement. The 12-year-old P-22 is the oldest cat in the agency’s study. For years, P-22 has quietly eked out his existence in a nine-square-mile area of Griffith Park and nearby residential neighborhoods.
The Park Service said this is the first time they’re aware of a mountain lion attacking a pet on a leash in the Los Angeles area, but there have been other incidents reported in Colorado and other parts of Southern California.
P-22, like most other mountain lions, are opportunistic predators, said Pratt.
“They are stealth predators,” she said. “They’re called ‘ghost cats’ for a reason. This is how they get their prey. It’s not like the vision of lions in Africa that chase down their prey on the plains.”
As a pet owner herself, Pratt is saddened for the dog and its owner. But pets can resemble a mountain lion’s natural prey, she said. In behavior familiar to owners of pet cats, P-22 stalked the dog walker and the dogs before he pounced, Pratt said, but he didn’t show any aggression toward the dog walker once it got the dog.
“It’s sad that P-22 killed a beloved pet,” she said. “But he doesn’t know that. He was just being a mountain lion.”
Such attacks are rare, Pratt said. P-22 has adapted and charted his own course around human activity. The 123-pound big cat has maintained a nocturnal existence around his usual stomping ground near the Hollywood sign in Griffith Park.
Researchers believe P-22 is originally from the Santa Monica Mountains, born to another tagged lion, P-1, and an unnamed female lion.
In 2012, he found his way across the 405 and 101 freeways to reach Griffith Park.
P-22 has managed to avoid being hit by any vehicles during his Griffith Park residency, and, while he suffered a bout of mange due to rat poisoning in 2014, the lion remains healthy today.
He’s made the occasional foray into the Hollywood Hills, and in 2015 he baffled biologists when he settled into a crawlspace under a Los Feliz home. Then, just as abruptly as he appeared, he split that neighborhood.
In March, he roamed near the Silver Lake Reservoir, pushing outside his usual hunting grounds.
This latest incident was unique, but the conditions were right for a mountain lion, the National Park Service said.
The attack took place in full darkness, about 90 minutes after sunset. Typically, P-22 hunts deer and coyotes in Griffith Park. A few weeks before he killed the Chihuahua, P-22 took down a large buck in the park, officials said.
Mountain lions generally avoid large urban areas and are fearful of humans, but they will occasionally wander through front yards. Mountain lions hunt domestic dogs and other pets that are lost, off their leash or wandering alone, according to wildlife studies. There have been instances when mountain lions attacked pets in their yards and even ventured into a garage and a house in what the National Park Service called “two unusual instances.”
“There is no evidence that preying on pets is related to an increased chance of an attack on a person, either in mountain lions, or in other urban carnivores such as coyotes,” the Park Service said. “Mountain lion attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, although they do occur.”
The agency reminds pet owners to keep their animals indoors, to be alert of their surroundings and to supervise pets around dusk or dawn when predators are most active. If a person does encounter a mountain lion outdoors, they should keep their pet close, make themselves seem as large as possible, make noise and do not run.