Conservation Wildlife Management

Celebrity Cougar P-22 Had Mange, Ringworm, Heart Disease, a Broken Face, and Other Ailments

Mountain lions in Southern California lead tough lives and eat a lot of rat poison
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p-22 celebrity cougar mange
P-22 suffered multiple bouts of mange throughout his life, including one case in 2014, pictured here. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area / Flickr

Results from a post-mortem study of famous Los Angeles mountain lion P-22 show the cat was suffering from a variety of serious injuries and diseases when California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials euthanized him in December, a press release from the National Park Service reads. P-22 lived in Griffith Park in the middle of Los Angeles for most of his life and was heralded by many Californians as the “King of Los Angeles.” Now, murals, tattoos, merchandise, and a new $85-million wildlife bridge across the Ventura Highway—which P-22 likely crossed over a decade ago to get to Griffith Park in the first place—commemorate the urban cat’s seemingly brutal life.

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CDFW officials captured P-22 five days prior to his euthanasia. Researchers had noticed behavioral changes in the big cat (he had killed a few pet dogs) and decided to capture him and run some tests. But his health issues became even more severe after a vehicle struck him the night of Dec. 11, just hours before the capture was set to occur.

A necropsy that was later conducted at the San Diego Zoo showed a fractured right orbital bone and hemorrhages in his front sinus and right eye—injuries that were thought to result from the Dec. 11 vehicle collision. However, additional trauma throughout the cat’s life had left him with a host of other health issues. These included tears in P-22’s diaphragm that had allowed parts of his liver and abdominal tissue to enter his chest cavity. He was also covered in mange-causing mites and ringworm fungus, which had spread to a lymph node. His skin diseases actually made history—P-22 was the first documented mountain lion to suffer from both mange and ringworm at the same time.  

P-22 dealt with heart valve disease, vascular disease, and kidney disease. He was also underweight and had arthritis, according to the NPS. Many of these issues can be chalked up to old age. He was at least 12 years old—an age that mountain lions rarely reach in the wild. Biologists also found evidence of five different rodenticides in his body, although none seemed to be causing him any major harm.

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Exposure to rat poison is a major issue for mountain lions in southern California, killing at least seven cats over the last 19 years. The NPS also pointed to a study that was conducted by the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory and looked at 247 mountain lions in the area. They found that 96 percent of the cats had some level of rodenticide in their systems.

Different studies have showed alarmingly high rates of rodenticide exposure in birds, as well. In September 2020, California governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill banning the use of certain rodenticides statewide to address the risks they pose to wildlife.