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Fate of famed mountain lion P-22 still undetermined after capture, euthanasia possible

Fate of famed mountain lion, P-22, still undetermined after capture, euthanasia possible
Fate of famed mountain lion, P-22, still undetermined after capture, euthanasia possible 01:54

Medical tests will continue Wednesday on P-22, one day after wildlife officials gave a disheartening report on the condition of Griffith Park's famed mountain lion.

Following the celebrity cat's capture Monday in a Los Feliz backyard, officials Tuesday announced that P-22 is severely underweight and may have recently been struck by a vehicle.

Neighbors in the Hollywood Hills told CBSLA that P-22 attacked a woman. 

"The screams were eerie," said one neighbor who did not want to be identified. "It's like the animal was making screams too."

The neighbor said the attack happened around 2 a.m. on Dec. 8 when her neighbor had a scary encounter with P-22 before he was captured. 

"He tried to kill that girl. He probably would have eaten her, I don't know," the neighbor said. "Wild animals are wild animals." 

The Department of Fish and Wildlife said the woman was protecting her dog from P-22 when she was hurt. Neighbors said the big cat mauled her and she had to get thirty stitches.

Officials said it is unlikely P-22 will be released back into the wild, and could potentially be euthanized depending on further medical results.

"Nobody is taking that kind of decision lightly," California Department of Fish and Wildlife Deputy Communications Director Jordan Traverso told reporters in a videoconference Tuesday.

"Everybody understands the importance of this animal to the community and to California. And so if that kind of decision has to be made, I just want everybody to understand that it's not something that's taken lightly. It's very deeply thought about. And if something like that does happen, we recognize the sadness of it."

P-22 was captured Monday morning in Los Feliz by National Park Service and CDFW officials. Wildlife officials had announced last week they planned to capture the cat in response to recent attacks on a pair of pet dogs as well as other behavioral red flags that suggested the animal may be in some distress.

On Tuesday, officials said the lion had awoken from the tranquilizer that was used to capture him, and that an initial examination showed the animal was dramatically underweight.

He also had trauma on his face, suggesting he had recently been struck by a vehicle, although officials said they had not "definitively" confirmed that.

Authorities plan to conduct a CT scan on the animal this week to determine if he is suffering from more extensive internal trauma.

Deana Clifford, a senior wildlife veterinarian with CDFW, said a facial injury like the one seen on P-22 raises concerns about a possible additional head trauma. She said experts are also awaiting the results of additional tests to determine if the animal is suffering from other ailments.

"This is an old cat, and old cats get old-cat diseases," she said. "Any of us who had cats at home have seen this. ... We're working through all of those issues and we'll take a totality of the findings into account to try to make the best decision we can for the cat."

Given P-22's overall condition, it's unlikely the animal will ever be released back into the wild, according to Ed Pert, a regional manager with CDFW. The animal's fate will more likely wind up being a choice between an animal sanctuary or euthanasia, he said -- adding that experts are "trying to do what's best for P-22."

"There will certainly be a team of people who ultimately make this decision, although I think that our director will, if need be, if there's a tie- breaker ... would be involved in that decision," Pert said.

He said the team involved in such a choice would include CDFW officials, the National Park Service, veterinarians and possibly "some folks from the outside to make sure that we have various perspectives fully understood."

P-22 made headlines in recent weeks for apparent attacks on a pair of dogs. The cat was blamed for killing a leashed dog in the Hollywood Hills and attacking another a week ago in the Silver Lake area.

The lion, one of many Southland-area cats being tracked by National Park Service researchers, has gained fame locally for his persistence and durability, successfully managing to cross both the San Diego (405) and Hollywood (101) freeways to reach his current roaming grounds in the Griffith Park area.

Known as the "Hollywood Cat," P-22 has been the face of the NPS' lion-tracking effort. His exploits have been documented in various media accounts, particularly for some of his more notable exploits -- crossing a pair of freeways, hiding out under a Los Feliz home in a standoff that drew widespread media attention and even being named a suspect in the killing of a koala at the Los Angeles Zoo.

He is believed to be about 11 years old, making him the oldest cat in the NPS' study of Southland lions. He was initially captured and outfitted with a tracking collar in 2012. At the time of his last capture, he weighed 123 pounds.

Pert said the decision to capture P-22 was prompted by the recent dog attacks, while also noting that the lion "started frequenting more urbanized areas than he had historically."

"And so there was clearly something about P-22 that caused a change in his behavior, and so we wanted to bring him in to do a health assessment," Pert said.

"And again, we're concerned about the community as well because some of these interactions with people caused injury to people, and so it was both for the well-being of P-22 and the community as well."

P-22 is being treated at an unidentified veterinary facility.

Beth Pratt, the National Wildlife Federation's California regional executive director and head of the #SaveLACougars campaign, said in a statement released Tuesday night she has "been in constant communication with the state and federal teams that are partnering to care for P-22."

"They all love P-22 just as much as any of us," Pratt said. "They are doing the best they can to ensure this remarkable cat stays alive.

"They did not take the step to capture him lightly. P-22 is not well. His behavior changed radically overnight. I have spoken with the biologists and also seen photos of him. He is underweight. He has mange which can mean he was exposed to rat poison."

Pratt said that P-22 had injured a person which "is usually cause for the animal being put down right away."

"That CDFW is not doing this shows they are taking extraordinary steps for P-22," Pratt said. "He is getting top notch care and they have assured me they will spare no expense to get him the medical attention he needs (and I have assured them we at #SaveLACougars will fund anything they needed for P-22.")

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