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NHM Opens P-22 Exhibit, The Story of LA’s Most Famous Feline

P-22, The Story of LA’s Most Famous Feline now at the Natural History Museum (photos courtesy of NHM)

The Natural History Museum of LA County has opened a new micro exhibit telling the story of LA’s most famous feline, the puma known as P-22 who lives just four miles away from us in the hills of Griffith Park.  (Out of respect, the Forest Service avoids giving names that personalize these animals so the ‘P’ stand for Puma and this is the 22nd animal that’s been tagged.)

P-22 was born in the Western Santa Monica Mountains then journeyed to Griffith Park by crossing both the 405 and 101 freeways on foot. According to NHM experts, a typical male Puma requires about 200 square miles; P-22 is confined to just 9 square miles. A large red graphic on the floor illustrates the relative scale of the habit that’s available to P-22 in our densely populated city. Still, it’s amazing to think he’s out there, wandering around trying to survive.

The exhibit brings his wanderings to life with graphics, projections, photography, and video, including footage of the cougar being collared and moving through his territory at night. It also explores what P-22 eats, how he maps and marks his territory, and the survival challenges that he, and all Southern California’s mountain lions, face living in L.A.’s backyard.

NHM scientist Miquel Ordeñana, who also grew up around Griffith Park, captured the first photographic evidence of P-22 as part of the Griffith Park Connectivity Study, a joint effort of Cooper Ecological and the U.S. Geological Survey.  P-22 has become a symbol for the challenges that wildlife face and inspired efforts to provide passage across LA’s freeways for these animals such as the Save LA Cougars which proposes to build wildlife crossing over the Ventura Freeway at Liberty Canyon in Agoura Hills.

Cleverly, the exhibit requires visitors to “cross” a freeway projected on the floor between the Urban Nature Lab and the P-22 installation. Once, safely across, visitors to the exhibit will hear a soundscape of Griffith Park—created specifically for this installation to give visitors a sense of what P-22 hears on a daily basis—and interact with a topographic map of the park that highlights areas of human activity in the lion’s territory. The exhibit features numerous video and photos, including images from Ordeñana’s own camera traps.

Visitors cross the freeways like P-22

“L.A. is one of only two large metropolitan areas in the world that have a big cat species living within city limits. It’s something Angelenos can take pride in,” he says. “We must be better neighbors to local wildlife if we want mountain lions and other urban-sensitive species to be here for future generations.”

(photo courtesy of NHM)

One way to become a better neighbor, is to avoid using poison to eradicate wildlife we don’t want, like rats. This graphic depicts what happened when P-22 ate prey that had ingested a rat that was poisoned. Fortunately, wildlife biologists were able to intervene and treated the animal.

NHM exhibit staff assembled the P-22 installation quickly, in just three months, demonstrating the talented in-house team’s ability to create great exhibits that use NHM expertise and collections to tell unique LA stories, explained Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga. The installation compliments the museum’s temporary exhibition “Extreme Mammals” currently on display through September 10.

In addition, NHMLA will delve into the topic of big cat extinction and survival in Los Angeles in a special evening lecture, “Legendary Cats of Los Angeles: Extinction, Survival, and Celebrity” on August 17, 2017. Featuring National Geographic wildlife photographer Steve Winter, National Park Service carnivore biologist Jeff Sikich, as well as NHMLA scientists Ordeñana and Emily Lindsey, curator of the La Brea Tar Pits Museum and moderated by Los Angeles Times writer Thomas Curwen, the lecture will explore 40,000 years of feline history in Los Angeles, from the saber-toothed cats of the past to the mountain lions of today. Guests will learn how technology has influenced the study of big cats, and how photography citizen science have impacted big cat conservation efforts in Los Angeles.

Lecture: August 17, 2017 | 6 – 9:30 pm
$5 Members | $10 Nonmembers
Learn more and reserve tickets:

Admission to P-22 is include in general admission to the museum. More information is available at

NHM President Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga and NHMLA Citizen Science Coordinator Miquel Ordeñana introduce P-22 to media earlier this week
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Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard
Patricia Lombard is the publisher of the Larchmont Buzz. Patty lives with her family in Fremont Place. She has been active in neighborhood issues since moving here in 1989. Her pictorial history, "Larchmont" for Arcadia Press is available at Chevalier's Books.

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