Big cat fever returns to LA: Mountain lion possibly spotted in the Hollywood Hills

A possible mountain lion sighting in Griffith Park, Los Angeles, captured by Vladimir Polumiskov. Vladimir Polumiskov

The unconfirmed sighting of a cougar in a famous Los Angeles park has sparked a new bout of big cat fever among Los Angeles residents.

According to reports last week, a lion was spotted roaming a parking lot on the western edge of Griffith Park, the same place where a popular cougar named P-22 roamed for a decade, with the Hollywood sign in the background.

A video by Vladimir Polumiskov shows the newly spotted animal apparently in his free time. Polumiskov says he went there a second time and found the suspicious male still there. “He's a beautiful animal,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

The sighting, which has yet to be confirmed by the National Park Service, brings back fond memories. First spotted in 2012, P-22 became a California celebrity and a symbol of efforts to protect the local big cat community from the dangers of city life.

In December 2022, local authorities confirmed that they had euthanized P-22 after he was hit by a car – a common problem on the city's highways and traffic. His death sparked widespread sympathy: thousands of people attended a memorial service for P-22 last year, which included musical performances and dances in his honor. Some participants wore tattoos to express their affection for the animal.

The prospect of a new local megafauna has excited conservationists in the region, where a park administration project to better understand and protect mountain lions has been running since 2002.

It is estimated that there are up to 15 lions roaming the Santa Monica Mountains at any one time – but the newcomer may be the only one to have escaped from its natural habitat and found a home in Griffith Park. Beth Pratt, regional director of the National Wildlife Federation, explained that life in the park is “a very urban life.”

“Watch 'La La Land,' watch any LA movie,” Pratt, who was perhaps P-22's biggest fan, told HuffPost. “Griffith Park is right in the middle. This isn't a cat living on the outskirts of LA. The Hollywood sign is there… Brad Pitt lives right on the border. When P-22 was alive, he went to Universal Studios, he walked down Sunset Boulevard.”

The name P-22 requires an explanation. “P” stands for “cougar” and the number indicates how many big cats are collared and monitored by the National Park Service. The most recent sighting, if confirmed, would be recorded as P-122. The echo of the cat's previous name has not escaped animal rights activists.

The mountain lion known as P-22, photographed in Griffith Park near downtown Los Angeles in 2014.The mountain lion known as P-22, photographed in Griffith Park near downtown Los Angeles in 2014.

The mountain lion known as P-22, photographed in Griffith Park near downtown Los Angeles in 2014. via Associated Press

Pratt hopes P-122 will have the same impact as its predecessor, which was more than just an animal “living the big life in the Hollywood Hills.”

“He really changed people's preconceptions about what it means to live with wildlife, where wildlife can be. And that was a lasting movement,” she said. “When that cat showed up, I think that was further proof of the miracle that wildlife still lives among us in LA, and people yearn for that.”

Pratt, who has successfully campaigned for the construction of wildlife crossings over highways, urged wildlife watchers to be cautious around the big cats. But she firmly believes that humans and cougars can live side by side.

“P-22 taught us that these animals don't sit in the woods and jump on us,” she said. “For 10 years he was our neighbor. The neighbor you didn't see very often, but when you did see him, it was kind of cool and you waved 'hi.' And he went on his way and you went on your way. I think it taught us that coexistence is possible.”

The National Park Service is taking the possible sighting seriously and is continuing to review Polumiskov's video, spokeswoman Ana Beatriz Cholo confirmed to HuffPost. However, it could be months before the charismatic cat is tagged. In any case, it is “exciting,” she said.

“This is unusual,” Cholo said. “P-22 was at Griffin Park for several years and I guess we weren't expecting to see another one so soon.”