Mountain lion sightings in Griffith Park are usually nothing more than rumors, but a recent capture marks the first time a cougar has actually been seen in the area within the last 10 years.
The puma was captured in Griffith Park on March 28, and subsequently released after being fitted with a GPS device, said Jeff Sikich, a wildlife biologist with the National Park Service's Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
A remote camera set up by the United States Geological Survey and Cooper Ecological Monitoring originally spotted the puma, a male about 2 to 3 years old, and USGS authorities then notified the SMMNRA.
"The main purpose of capturing was to place a GPS radio collar," Sikich said. "We can get really detailed information on habitat use."
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Mountain lions are solitary creatures and the SMMNRA has been tracking 21 cats in the Santa Monica Mountains for 10 years, but they have yet to confirm a finding in Griffith Park during that time.
"In the 10 years that we've been doing a study in the Santa Monica Mountains, we have not had any confirmed sightings in Griffith Park," Sikich said. "Even us researchers have only seen them a handful of times."
So, how and why did the cat end up in Griffith Park?
"That's the million-dollar question," he added.
The cat was captured using cage traps, using a dead animal in the back of the cage and waiting for the animal to step in.
Local pumas often feast on mule deer, but can be "opportunistic," occasionally taking down a coyote, Sikich said.
The mountain lion, fittingly named puma 22, or simply P-22, weighs about 120 pounds, typical for his age.
Full-grown local males can weigh as much as 145-150 pounds, while females tap out at about 70-80 pounds, Sikich said.
The SMMNRA took blood and DNA tests to better understand P-22's lifestyle.
"We're interested to know what roads they're crossing, what they are eating," Sikich said. "Then we'll actually hike into that point to see what they're eating.
The DNA tests allow researchers to find out whether the cat is related to other cats in the Santa Monica Mountains region.
P-22 was not near any trails, but Sikich did have some advice for anyone who happens to encounter a mountain lion.
"If you have children, keep them close. Keep dogs on a leash," he said. "Do not run. You want to stand your ground. … Throw objects at it."