By now, the story of P-22 – the mountain lion also known as the Hollywood Cat – has spread widely, especially since his disappearance in mid-December. The fame of this cool cougar, ignited by years of media coverage in Los Angeles, resulted in an assuredly packed memorial service this month on February 4 at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles at Griffith Park, where he prowled for about a decade . In fact, the P-22 is just the latest emissary of nature to be informally adopted by a city or town, including a certain humpback whale that first captured the imagination of the Bay. Area in the mid-1980s.
In case you don’t know the details of the life and times of P-22, he was part of the population of Santa Monica Mountain Lions in Southern California that made his way to Crossing two major freeways (the 405 and the 101) years ago, he became one of the most unlikely residents of Griffith Park, roaming a small patch of nature in the middle of one of the most populated metropolitan areas in the country.
P-22’s journey was tracked by the National Park Service, and as news of his city residence spread, he won over many Los Angeles residents now mourning his death. It was an outpouring of love for a wild creature that is comparable to the affection Humphrey the humpback whale lost in San Francisco Bay during his annual migration from Mexico to Alaska in 1985 and 1990. On both occasions, Humphrey required rescue by the Marin County Marine Mammal Center, the Coast Guard and dozens of volunteers to get him back on track.
TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY
Although Humphrey found his way back to his migratory route with human assistance, his time spent navigating the Golden Gate touched people so deeply that he became an unofficial mascot of San Francisco, inspiring books, songs and even a documentary film, Humphrey the Lost Whale. On the other hand, P-22 had a more difficult period. At some point during his stay in town, he left the confines of Griffith Park and was cornered by authorities when he crawled under a house in the nearby neighborhood of Los Feliz. And as detailed in news reports, he was accused of killing a koala in the Los Angeles Zoo.
Recently, it was reported that P-22 had attacked pet dogs in the vicinity of the park, suggesting the lion was in bad shape. In response, wildlife experts captured him. It was discovered that he suffered from various injuries and was extremely anxious. Given his disturbing condition, it was decided to euthanize him on December 17. Despite the public’s wave of affection for P-22, there are surely those who don’t feel much love for him. For example, you might find it hard to be very sad about his passing if he nibbled on your Chihuahua. Nevertheless, there will be eulogies, music and dancing at the Greek to honor P-22.
As noted above, municipalities other than Los Angeles and San Francisco have adopted their own beasts as civic talismans. A little research revealed a number of intriguing examples – not to mention Phillie Phanatic of Philadelphia, whose strange face has yet to be found in any respectable zoological guidebook. Some of the animal mascots that have inspired specific locations are quite intriguing, some are charming, and some are downright wacky.
BLESS THE BEASTS
The international fame gained by the late Berlin Zoo polar bear Knut was never accompanied by the kind of drama that witnessed P-22 and Humphrey, yet Knutmania was a thing for some reason – perhaps advocacy of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, who took a shine to the bear. A wild cat named Tama grew up wandering the back streets of Kinokawa, Japan, eventually settling in Kishi Station and being given the title of Honorary Station Master. Fungie – a gregarious bottlenose dolphin living in the waters off Dingle, Ireland – has become known for welcoming boaters and frolicking with swimmers, becoming a tourist attraction.
In the basement, a New Zealand farming community had a certain recalcitrant sheep, and an Australian nature reserve bred a giant wombat, with each creature having its own fan base. Meanwhile, the Scottish town of St. Andrews erected a statue of its designated pet cat, a fluffy companion named Hamish McHamish, and maintained Facebook and Twitter accounts to woo the feline’s avid followers.
Though these examples pale next to the triumph and tragedy of P-22 or the feel-good escapades of Humphrey, there is something special about any nurturing bond between human beings and their animal neighbors. When we lose such a relationship, it can sting. A few weeks ago, Blanche the swan – the newest of her elegant breed to grace the lagoon at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts – passed away. Whether or not she succeeded another swan in the field, her loss leaves a palpable void for those of us still cheered by her presence. Perhaps a trip to Telegraph Hill to watch the ubiquitous parrots coming and going can ease the pain. Maybe not.
Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on The Mark Thompson Showvia YouTube and on The Cultural Explosion of Michael Snyder, through GABNet.net, Roku and iTunes. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster.