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Tribes bury famous Southern California puma, P-22


LOS ANGELES — Tribal leaders, scientists and conservation advocates buried Southern California’s most famous mountain lion in the mountains where the big cat once roamed on Saturday.

After calling Griffith City Park — home of the Hollywood sign — home for the past decade, P-22 has become a symbol of California’s endangered mountain lions and their dwindling genetic diversity. The cougar’s name comes from being the 22nd cougar in a National Park Service study.

The cougar’s death late last year sparked a debate among Los Angeles-area tribes and wildlife officials over whether scientists could save samples of the puma’s remains for future use. testing and research.

Some representatives of the Chumash, Tataviam and Gabrielino (Tongva) peoples have argued that the samples taken during the autopsy should be buried with the rest of his body in the ancestral lands where he spent his life. Some tribal elders said keeping the specimens for scientific testing would be disrespectful to their traditions. Cougars are considered parents and considered teachers in the tribal communities of Los Angeles.

Tribal representatives, wildlife officials and others have been discussing a potential compromise for the past few weeks, but it was not immediately clear Monday what conclusion the group had reached before P-22 was buried in an unspecified location in the Santa Monica Mountains SATURDAY.

The traditional tribal burial included chanting, prayers and sage-smoke cleansing, according to Alan Salazar, a member of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and a descendant of the Chumash Tribe.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, where the cougar’s remains had been kept in a freezer before burial, called the burial a “ceremony of historical significance”.

“P-22’s death touched us all and he will forever be a revered icon and ambassador for wildlife conservation,” the museum said in a statement Monday.

Salazar, who attended the ceremony, said he believes the legacy of the P-22 will help wildlife officials and scientists realize the importance of being respectful to animals in the future.

Beth Pratt, California executive director of the National Wildlife Federation who also attended the ceremony, wrote on Facebook that the burial “helped me achieve some peace” as she mourned the death of the animal.

“I can also imagine P-22 at peace now, with such a strong and caring dispatch to the next location,” she wrote. “As we lay her down to rest, a red-tailed hawk flew overhead and called loudly, possibly there to aid her on her journey.”

Los Angeles and Mumbai are the only major cities in the world where big cats have been a regular sight for years – mountain lions in one, leopards in the other – although cougars have started roaming the streets of Santiago, Chile during pandemic shutdowns.

Wildlife officials believe P-22 was born about 12 years ago in the mountains west of Santa Monica, but left because of his father’s aggression and his own struggle to find a mate in the midst of a declining population. This prompted the cougar to cross two busy highways and migrate east to Griffith Park, where a wildlife biologist captured it on a trail camera in 2012.

His freeway journey inspired a wildlife crossing on a Los Angeles-area freeway that will allow big cats and other animals to pass safely between the mountains and the wild lands to the north. The bridge was inaugurated in April.

P-22 was captured last December in a residential yard following dog attacks. Examinations revealed a fractured skull – the result of being hit by a car – and chronic illnesses including a skin infection and kidney and liver disease. The big city darling cat was euthanized five days later.

Los Angeles celebrated his life last month at the Greek Theater in Griffith Park in a star-studded memorial that included musical performances, tribal blessings, speeches about the importance of P-22 life and wildlife conservation, and a video message from Governor Gavin Newsom.

To honor where the animal called home in the city’s sprawl, a boulder from Griffith Park was brought to the grave in the Santa Monica Mountains and placed near P-22’s grave, a said Salazar.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.