It was night in Los Angeles, and artist Cori Mattie was downing a glass or two of wine when she heard something outside her house.
At first she thought her brother’s Labrador Retriever had gone out of the house, so she went to get him in.
But it wasn’t the dog.” It was a mountain lion [كلمة بذيئة]says Matty.
And not just any mountain lion – but the most famous mountain lion in Hollywood and perhaps even the world.
His name was B-22, Mattie said, and her meeting with him in March was an indelible mark.
His green eyes glowed directly at her. She stared at him in turn. She took a quick video before hiding inside, and the B-22 stayed until dawn, when it left quietly over a lattice fence.
“He could have destroyed me, but he didn’t. It escalated quickly and he became my spirit animal. I went from zero to one hundred, very quickly,” she said.
Mattie wasn’t the first to be charmed by the Angelino B-22. The city has been under his grip since 2012, when he somehow managed to cross two deadly highways and take up residence in Griffith Park, a 4,200-acre mountain in the heart of one of the largest concrete forests in the world.
Since then, his charisma and odd choice of urban habitat have made him a local folk hero. His plight – being trapped on an urban island with no possibility of finding a mate – has also made him the face of a movement to protect endangered species.
This week, B-22 fans’ hearts were broken when the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced that, due to the increasingly erratic behavior of the lion as it reaches old age, it now faces two potentially bleak futures: to be relocated or to be euthanized. Will definitely not return to Griffith Park.
But whatever happens, his decade-long reign cemented his status as a shining star in Hollywood as any star on the big screen.
Griffith Park is small compared to the typical average size of a mountain lion of 150 square miles. However, like many city dwellers, the B-22 was willing to sacrifice space for a prime location.
It was first discovered in February 2012, when Miguel Urdinana, a biologist at the park, was examining nighttime footage from his wildlife camera traps.
“Suddenly this huge lion’s butt appears on my computer screen!” Ordinana recalls.
At first he didn’t believe it, but a later photo confirmed that the park had an exciting new resident.
And the big cat captured the imagination of famous nature photographer Steve Winter, who set up a camera trap under the Hollywood Sign. He waited more than a year before he entered the B-22 into the camera frame.
The photo went viral on National Geographic, which led to a star being born.
“It gave people hope, because they live in this large metropolitan area and they have this park that they walk in that was actually wild with mountain lions,” said Winter. “He’s become a celebrity in Celebrity City,” he added.
A decade of B-22 adventures have followed since then. He scared a maintenance worker in 2015 when he hid in the maintenance space under a house in Los Feliz. He is occasionally seen before the doors and in front of the garden cameras, looking imposing, even gentle, as he feeds on a deer he has just slaughtered. The city loved him so much that they forgave him when he (probably) killed a koala in an L.A. park. Los Angeles declared October 22 “B-22 Day”.
But it has also become a symbol of a darker reality for California’s mountain lions.
Local prey – wolves, raccoons and other small animals – were also infested with rat poison, which is now ubiquitous around Los Angeles.
In 2014, B-22 camera traps spotted him looking ill and officials took him for treatment.
A picture of him looking old and confused soon went viral, but it was no joke. It was found to be full of rat poison and consumed by scabies, conditions which kill most mountain lions.
The habitats of animal species have been choked by California’s highways. Although up to 6 thousand mountain lions live in California.
The researchers believe that the population in the Santa Monica Mountains, where B-22 was likely born, could die out within 50 years as the cats resorted to inbreeding, weakening their genetic pool.
Large chunks of asphalt also make trips to new habitats deadly. In September, a pregnant mountain lioness was mauled and killed when she tried to cross the Malibu Highway that bisects a key swath of habitat. She and her four unborn cubs had traces of rat poison in their bodies.
Once, Ordinana captured a video of B-22 making plaintive mating calls.
The highways and development surrounding Griffith Park ensured that it was isolated from potential females and that it would never reproduce.
The reign of the Lion King is over
Being among the humans who love him leads to his downfall. At the advanced age of 12, he began spending more time behaving wildly in urban areas around the park. Recently, a Chihuahua, one of Los Angeles’ least endangered but highly protected species, was killed. The last straw came after he attacked a resident who was walking his dog.
When officials cornered him in a backyard on Dec. 12, the B-22 was underweight, riddled with scabies and suffering from an eye injury likely caused by a car collision, said Jeff Sikich of the National Park Service, a scientist. Haya spent more time with the B-22 than anyone else.
It was revealed at a press conference the next day that it was unlikely he would ever be released back into the wild.
As tragic as it may have been, his fans say moving him from Griffith Park and putting him into a sanctuary would be the best case scenario, and his legacy as an LA legend is safe.
“He managed to survive here against all odds.” said Mattie, who painted a large mural of him and is involved in wildlife conservation campaigns. Emphasizing that “a lot of people can relate to him. It’s not easy, Los Angeles will chew you up and spit you out.” But, for now, it still exists.