The famous mountain lion P-22 was buried in an undisclosed location in California

Tribal leaders, scientists and conservationists buried Southern California’s most famous mountain lion Saturday in the mountains where the big cat once roamed.

After making its home in urban Griffith Park — home of the Hollywood sign — for the past decade, P-22 has become a symbol of California’s endangered mountain lions and their declining genetic diversity. The mountain lion’s name comes from being the 22nd cougar in a National Park Service study.

The Death of the Puma Late last year sparked a debate between Los Angeles-area tribes and wildlife officials over whether scientists could keep samples of the mountain lion’s remains for future testing and research.

Some representatives of the Chumash, Tataviam and Gabrielino (Tongva) peoples argued that the samples taken during the autopsy should be buried along with the rest of his body in the lands of his ancestors, where he spent his life. Some tribal elders said keeping the samples for scientific testing was disrespectful to their traditions. Mountain lions are considered relatives and teachers in LA’s tribal communities.

Tribal officials, wildlife officials and others have been discussing a possible compromise for the past few weeks, but consensus wasn’t reached before P-22 was buried an unspecified location in the Santa Monica Mountains on Saturday.

“Although we have done everything possible to keep the carcass intact, the tribes and authorities involved are still working towards a conclusion about some of the samples,” the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said in a statement Monday. “It is important to understand that all the tribes and authorities involved agreed to proceed with the burial and it was a moving ceremony. We have arrived at a better place of understanding and look forward to continued growth from that place.”

P-22 was
This November 2014 file photo provided by the US National Park Service shows a mountain lion known as a P-22 photographed in the Griffith Park area near downtown Los Angeles.

US National Park Service, via AP

It wasn’t clear if the unspecified samples could also be buried with the animal in the future, or if the tribes have agreed to let scientists keep some samples for additional testing.

According to Alan Salazar, a tribal member of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and a descendant of the Chumash tribe, Saturday’s traditional tribal burial included songs, prayers and cleansing with sage smoke.

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where the cougar’s remains were stored in a freezer prior to burial, called the burial a “historically significant ceremony.”

“The death of P-22 affected us all and he will forever be a revered icon and ambassador for wildlife conservation,” the museum said in a statement Monday.

Salazar, who attended the ceremony, said he believes the legacy of the P-22 will help wildlife officials and scientists see the importance of treating animals with respect in the future.

Beth Pratt, the California executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, who also attended the ceremony, wrote on Facebook that the funeral “helped me achieve a level of peace” as she mourns the animal’s death.

“I can now picture P-22 in peace too, with such a powerful and caring farewell to the next location,” she wrote. “As we laid him to rest, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead and called loudly, perhaps 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 – mountain lions in one, leopards in the other – although cougars began roaming the streets of Santiago, Chile, during the pandemic lockdowns .

Wildlife officials believe P-22 was born about 12 years ago in the western Santa Monica Mountains but left due to his father’s aggression and his own struggle to find a mate amid a dwindling population. That prompted the cougar to cross two busy freeways and migrate east to Griffith Park, where a wildlife biologist caught it with a wildlife camera in 2012.

His journey down the freeways inspired a wildlife crossing on a Los Angeles-area highway that will provide safe passage for big cats and other animals between the mountains and wilderness to the north. Groundbreaking for the bridge took place in April.

P-22 was captured last December in an inhabited backyard after dog attacks. Investigations revealed a fractured skull – the result of a car accident – and chronic illnesses, including a skin infection and diseases of the kidneys and liver. The city’s beloved big 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 the importance of P-22 life and wildlife conservation, and a video message from Gov. Gavin Newsom .

To honor the place where the animal made its home amid the city’s urban sprawl, a boulder was brought from Griffith Park to the burial site in the Santa Monica Mountains and placed near P-22’s grave, Salazar said.

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