P-22 might have left this world, but his impact remains strong, especially when it comes to mankind thinking for the well-being of animals.
It might sound like fiction if we say that a lone mountain lion is the inspiration behind the construction of the world's largest wildlife overpass. But it is a real story from Los Angeles. The mountain lion, who was named P-22, was unable to find a mate for himself due to being trapped on one side of the busy freeways in Los Angeles, reports CNN. Several animals die each year while trying to cross the streets amid heavy traffic activity.
Final Necropsy Results Released For Mountain Lion P-22— Beth Pratt (@bethpratt) June 14, 2023
“P-22 was a fascinating animal to study," said Jeff Sikich, the lead field biologist of the NPS mountain lion study. "Not only was he an important ambassador for urban wildlife, but his scientific contributions were also… pic.twitter.com/tKUR0jHpMI
But P-22 sort of became a celebrity among the Hollywood stars who would often spot the animal in the neighborhoods of Los Angeles' Griffith Park. Even though the overpass is now under construction, P-22 is not around anymore to cross it with other animals. In December 2022, just a few months after the National Wildlife Federation and California's transportation department started the construction work of the bridge, the mountain lion passed away after sustaining severe injuries and chronic conditions that impaired his ability to function in the wild, reports KTLA.
"He was surviving in a space much, much smaller than any male mountain lion ever had—eight square miles," explained Beth Pratt, the California Director of the National Wildlife Federation. "The average male mountain lion territory is 150 miles. This mountain lion lived in L.A. and people didn't fear him. They saw him as a neighbor; they'd be eating dinner and he'd walk by their dining room at night and they'd share a photo and be like: 'Hey, P-22 visited me.'"
Pratt recalls one of the best moments of her career when she got an email from "Succession" actor Alan Ruck, which read that "he spotted P-22 from the deck of his Hollywood Hills home." As P-22 rose in popularity, many people looked forward to helping the animal and others like him who often roamed around the jam-packed six-lane 101 Freeway of L.A. The idea of constructing an overpass was garnering public interest, but collecting funds for it was a major concern.
Pratt found herself pleading openly for donations, which poured in from celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Rainn Wilson, Barbra Streisand and David Crosby. "He's someone who was also impacted by the injustice of putting freeways through communities," she said. "Whether you're living in Beverly Hills, whether you're living in Watts, we all come together over wildlife." The overpass was finally built with specially designed sound walls, along with natural sound barriers of tall trees and lush plantings.
Mountain lion P-22 was buried Saturday in the Santa Monica Mountains.— John A. Moreno (@morenojohn) March 6, 2023
“This action was a collaboration between local Tribes, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History and the National Park Service,” NPS says pic.twitter.com/OCuDgKVg6H
People designing the overpass kept in mind that wildlife often gets frightened by the noise of 300,000 to 400,000 cars that will pass underneath it after it opens in two years. The bridge has been named Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Overpass. The engineers who worked on the bridge took animals' fear of bright lights into account and are currently designing light barriers too. "All the lights of those headlights are a deterrent to wildlife. We're actually designing light barriers—not just on the crossing but in the approach—so they won't get scared and turn around, which is what happens," Pratt explained.
National Wildlife Federation and California's transportation department received half of the $100 million for construction from private donations, including $26 million from philanthropist Wallis Annenberg. However, this is not the first wildlife crossing of its kind. Wildlife crossings were first constructed in France in the 1950s and are especially popular in the Netherlands. "We've been collecting seeds for years now to match the surrounding ecosystem, and that's important with climate—both wildlife and plants need options," Pratt revealed.
Heart wrenching that this spectacular animal was relegated to living in such a small space & exposed to so much that was not part of his natural environment. Amazing that he lived so long.— Dayna Boss (@daynaboss) June 15, 2023
What a brutal litany of human-induced damage to this magnificent being, and a testament to the many challenges that all mountain lions face 💕— Dr. Jackie Gai (@Zoogai) June 15, 2023
Pratt also reminisced about the long life of the deceased mountain lion. "But more than that, he used his celebrity for good. I call him the 'ultimate cougar celebrity influencer.' And we owe him a debt of gratitude. He has inspired the building of the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing. We would not have it without him," she concluded. According to the Federal Highway Administration, around 365 million vertebrate animals die on US roads every year from vehicle accidents. Hopefully, with this new overpass, the innocent lives of these animals can be saved in great numbers.