After P-22 kills the zoo's koala, what now?

p-22-close-dec2015.jpgP-22 in December.

It sure sounds as if the city's most famous resident mountain lion, P-22, made off last week with the Los Angeles Zoo's oldest koala, Killarney, in a late-night raid. The lion was spotted on zoo surveillance video the night that Killarney disappeared. The koala's remains were found about 400 yards away from the enclosure where the zoo's (now-10) koalas live. There is no direct proof that the cougar got into the koala habitat and grabbed Killarney, but everyone involved seems to accept that's probably what happened. P-22 has been spotted around the zoo in Griffith Park several times in the past month. Makes sense; he's a predator and at least some of the zoo's animals are apparently easy pickings.

There haven't really been any bad situations since P-22 moved into Griffith Park a few years ago. When he holed up under the house in Los Feliz last April, wildlife officials waited him out and as soon as the crowds of noisy onlookers outside left, he returned to his usual range in the chaparral. But everybody has to fear that something is coming: Griffith Park is smaller than the territory usually inhabited by an adult male lion, he's surrounded by city on three sides, hundreds if not thousands of people come up into the park every day, he will probably never find a mate in Griffith Park, and he faces all the same perils, such as rat poison and cars, that have been claiming lions elsewhere in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Now he's becoming a fixture at the zoo. National Park Service researchers said Thursday it's the zoo's responsibility to keep its animals safe from the park's top predator. P-22 apparently had only to jump into the koala enclosure and back out with Killarney to make the nab.

The two City Council members for that area of the city took different tacks in statements released Thursday. Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said it's time for officials to consider relocating P-22 out of the urban park — a tactic that many wildlife experts aren't keen on, since anywhere more wild that P-22 would be moved to is likely to have a male lion already there.

Regardless of what predator killed the koala, this tragedy just emphasizes the need to contemplate relocating P-22 to a safer, more remote wild area where he has adequate space to roam without the possibility of human interaction. P-22 is maturing, will continue to wander and runs the risk of a fatal freeway crossing as he searches for a mate. As much as we love P-22 at Griffith Park, we know the park is not ultimately suitable for him. We should consider resettling him in the environment he needs.

Councilman David Ryu, however, says P-22 should stay.

Griffith Park is the largest natural wilderness within the City of Los Angeles, containing numerous and distinct ecosystems that house various native plants and wildlife species. The park is considered an essential link in Southern California’s wildlife corridor, stretching from Santa Monica to the Verdugo Mountain Ranges.

Griffith Park was originally envisioned as a natural escape from urban pressures. It’s absolutely critical that we preserve Griffith Park as a linchpin in the survival of Southern California’s native ecosystems.

The incident at the Los Angeles Zoo is incredibly unfortunate; however, relocating P22 would not be in the best interest of protecting our wildlife species. Mountain lions are a part of the natural habitat of Griffith Park and the adjacent hillsides.

As our City continues to grow, wildlife and humans are increasingly competing for space, resources, and places to call home. Many of these species play a critical role in creating healthier ecosystems that benefit us all.

It is crucial to identify solutions to co-exist so we can ultimately prioritize the safety of our wildlife and the public.

P-22 is beautiful and becoming iconic in the LA narrative — it's still amazing to ponder how he got to Griffith Park from the western Santa Monica Mountains — but in real life he's also the most likely doomed lion of the all those being monitored by scientists. So now that he's picking off zoo animals, and possibly lurking close by when the zoo is filled with children, what now?

Previously on LA Observed:
P-22 captured for check-up: looking good
Secrets of the LA mountain lions
Griffith Park mountain lion found sick, possibly poisoned

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