“This mountain lion episode is very timely,” Peter Gros, host of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom begins. “As you’re probably aware, P-22 has died.”
P-22, one of California’s most beloved and recognized wild animals, “lived for over 10 years in Griffith park in the Los Angeles area,” the celebrated host cites during our exclusive chat. “Which is pretty incredible considering Griffith is near such a large population base. He was able to avoid people and share that habitat for such a long time.”
Then, tragically, P-22 attacked both dogwalkers and dogs on not one, but two occasions last December, resulting in human injuries and a pet fatality. Up until that point, the 123-pound male had never exhibited signs of aggression towards humans or their pets. Yet his actions left CA and NPS wildlife officials with no choice but to track, tranquilize, and capture P-22.
The Life and Death of P-22 Signals Great Changes to Cougar Conservation
After capture and examination, officials decided not to release P-22 back into the wild. “At the moment, it’s not likely that P-22 will be released back into the wild based on [his condition] and the other health issues that he seems to be facing,” Ed Pert, regional manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced during CDFW’s mid-December conference.
At some point prior to Dec. 2022, P-22 had acquired extensive injuries. He also exhibited several health problems, which may have attributed to his change in behavior. Regardless, wildlife officials tended to him in hopes of rehabilitation. Yet a painful but necessary decision would follow. P-22 was to be euthanized.
Californians and wildlife enthusiasts across America who had come to know P-22 through National Geographic documentaries and headlining conservation work mourned his loss. “He changed us,” said Beth Pratt (regional California director for the National Wildlife Foundation) after nearly a decade of working with P-22’s tracking project.
“Even in the city that gave us Carmeggedon, where we thought wildness had been banished a long time ago,” she adds, “P-22 reminded us it’s still here.”
Poignantly, Pratt’s sentiments are precisely what the latest episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom focuses on.
‘Wild Kingdom: Protecting the Wild’s Timey Mountain Lion Episode is a Must-Watch
“Mountain lions, by nature, are very shy,” Gros continues. “They tend to want to stay away from people. But because P-22 was photographed at night near the famous Hollywood sign by a motion camera, he became famous. People around the Los Angeles area had [and have] the correct reaction to his species. Rather than being fearful or demanding his relocation, their attitude has been ‘Let’s learn about it, help create an overpass so we can expand his habitat over the busy Highway 101, and help him navigate a place where over 300,000 cars a day pass through.'”
As the Wild Kingdom host notes, “Mountain lions and other wildlife trying to cross these highways tend to be hit by cars.” This was the case for another beloved California cougar, P-81, just days before this article.
Even before P-81’s death, “People became so involved locally,” Gros adds before citing NWF’s Pratt as the driving force for the state’s cougar conservation. “Pratt became, as I like to say, the ‘agent’ for P-22. He was the ‘Brad Pitt of mountain lions’ to her,” he smiles. “Now, because of her work, and because of P-22 serving as a poster child for mountain lions, they were able to raise over sixty-five million dollars to build an overpass for wildlife in his area.”
As a result, the habitat that once allowed P-22 to thrive “has doubled in size,” Gros lauds. “Wildlife can now transition and expand their habitat as they need to. This allows them to find mates and diversify the gene pool,” he adds, which is another issue P-81’s death highlights.
Watch ‘Crossing Cougar Country’ For Free
The life of P-22 – and how it changed the very landscape of LA – features heavily in the most recent episode of Wild Kingdom: Protecting the Wild. Anyone can watch in-full (for free) below. Within, “We also cover a similar story down in Florida where the highways are also busy,” Gros highlights.
Whether we call them cougars, leopards, Florida panthers or mountain lions, these big cats are facing unique challenges to their survival. And few series or hosts have captured the triumphs and tragedies of the cougar conservation effort like Peter Gros and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. In kind, P-22’s legacy catapults this episode, titled “Crossing Cougar Country,” into must-watch territory.
To get a deeper look into the making of the episode, check out their Crossing Cougar Country Behind the Scenes. Both that article and the episode highlight ways you can help, too. Or, if you find yourself curious about Florida’s crocodiles, see our previous Wild Kingdom coverage here.
Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom: Protecting the Wild will continue releasing new episodes for free throughout February of 2023 on RFD-TV.