P-22, the Los Angeles area's most renowned wild animal, will be captured and evaluated after possibly "exhibiting signs of distress" including killing a leashed Chihuahua last month and attacking another Chihuahua last week, wildlife officials said Thursday.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife said it plans to capture the mountain lion for a health evaluation after which "CDFW veterinarians and [National Park Service] biologists will determine the best next steps for the animal while also prioritizing the safety of the surrounding communities."
The news release did not say what the next steps could be, but Fish and Wildlife spokesperson Tim Daly said, "No options are off the table."
"We just need to get our hands on him and determine if anything is wrong," Daly said.
The announcement comes three weeks after the 12-year-old mountain lion killed a leashed Chihuahua in the Hollywood Hills and a week after another attack on a Chihuahua in Silver Lake that was confirmed to be the work of P-22.
Last month's attack represented a first for mountain lions in the region, National Park Service officials said.
"The killing of the leashed pet in November was the first time we have heard of a mountain lion attacking a pet on a leash in the L.A. area," Ashton Hooker, acting public affairs officer for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said in an email to The Times.
After killing the leashed Chihuahua, "P-22 has been reported in residential and urban areas close to his habitat in Griffith Park, including sightings, video recordings, and physical encounters," the park service said in a Facebook post.
Both dog attacks were at least partly caught on camera.
Footage from the November incident, first reported by KTLA-TV Channel 5, shows the big cat sneaking up behind a dog walker before grabbing a small Chihuahua that had been trailing behind. The dog, identified as Piper, was killed.
On Dec. 2, the cougar was seen padding past the security camera of a home in Silver Lake, according to video provided to The Times by neighbor Jeff Kelly. About 30 seconds after the cat passes by the camera, a man is seen exiting a home across from Kelly's and walking down the street out of frame.
"Whoa! Hey! Hey! Hey!" the man is heard screaming in the video. "What the f- is this? Get the f- off of him!"
The sound of a dog's whimpering is heard as a woman rushes out of the house. The man returns into view, carrying the crying dog back into the home.
The man, identified as Rene Astorga, had apparently fought off the big cat, saving his dog's life.
"I just was punching with my left hand and kicking as much I could," Astorga told KTLA.
Daly noted that P-22's senior status (mountain lions usually have a 10-year life span) and his isolation could be factors in his behavioral change and will be evaluated.
"This is an unprecedented situation in which a mountain lion has continued to survive in such an urban setting," the Department of Fish and Wildlife said. "As P-22 has aged, however, the challenges associated with living on an island of habitat seem to be increasing and scientists are noting a recent change in his behavior."
Activists in Southern California have been trying for years to address mountain lions' isolation, which can lower genetic diversity among the cats.
Last spring, ground was finally broken on a long-awaited animal crossing over the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills, which will allow safe passage between mountain ranges over treacherous roadways.
"Sadly, what we are seeing with P-22 again underscores the unfortunate consequences of a lack of connectivity for mountain lions and all wildlife," Beth Pratt, California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation and a leader of the bridge fundraising campaign, said Thursday in an email to supporters. "He has lived for over a decade in the smallest known home range ever recorded for a male mountain lion."
Even Astorga acknowledged that his run-in with P-22 was due to the lion's small habitat.
Upon learning of the plans to capture the cougar, Astorga said he was "bummed out a little bit."
"I'm hoping no harm comes to him," Astorga said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.