Hollywood has a new big cat A-lister

In Hollywood, when one star fades, another is surely on the rise. And that’s exactly what happened when a new mountain lion was discovered in the Hollywood Hills.

The exclusive neighbourhoods near California's famous “Hollywood” sign have long been a refuge for the rich and famous. But for a decade, those hillsides also were home to “P-22” - or the “Brad Pitt” of mountain lions.

P-22, or Puma-22, became an international sensation after his photograph in front of the Hollywood sign at night appeared in National Geographic.

“When he showed up, he became an A-lister,” said Beth Pratt, the California director of the National Wildlife Federation.

“People were just in awe that this wild creature was there, and they came to love and connect with him in different ways.”

But he got sick with multiple illnesses and injuries, and was euthanised in 2022.

Now, a new lion's in town, said experts investigating sightings.

“We don’t know where this cat came from, he’s not collared,” Ms Pratt told the BBC. “It is definitely a mountain lion in these videos and photos.”

There have been several sightings over the past week, one captured on a security camera and another filmed from a car.

“Will this cat be as skilled as P-22 was at avoiding cars for a decade?” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen here.”

Also known as pumas or cougars, the giant cats are native to California. But for one to make it into Los Angeles is quite rare.

The area where the as-yet-unnamed animal was seen is surrounded by heavy traffic.

A benefit of the cat’s urban oasis in the Hollywood Hills is an abundance of deer, the mountain lion’s prey of choice, she said.

The intrigue is to see if the new cat will stick around, and whether it can survive city life.

“He would have had to cross a couple of major freeways to get there,” Ms Pratt said. “He could stay, or he could head back out, but it’s risky.”

Many residents are hopeful, especially after the loss of P-22.

 A trail camera picture of mountain lion P-22, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., 2012.
A trail camera picture of mountain lion P-22, in Los Angeles, taken in 2012 [Reuters]

Sheila Irani, who has lived in the area for 30 years, recalled watching P-22 heading up her back steps late one night.

“Because I have a gate closed up there he just turned around and walked back down,” she said.

“He wasn’t ominous but he definitely exuded strength and confidence… He was just really lean, with high cheekbones. Just a beautiful handsome boy.”

“Then my friend arrived and saw him from the car and was scared to death.”

Fatal encounters with mountain lions in California are extremely rare.

“In the last 100 years there’s only been around two dozen attacks in an area with 40 million people,” Ms Pratt said. “So the risk is extremely low.”

“They’re mainly not interested in people, but once in a while something does happen.”

Suzanne Pye, a local resident, walks the trails up to the Hollywood sign and said she isn’t worried. “It’s going to add a frisson of excitement to the morning hikes.”

Just like Hollywood’s celebrities, the rare sightings of P-22 only increased his mystique.

“When you think of Hollywood, you think of people coming here to make it big. And that’s what he did, he was a loner who came here and became a huge star,” Ms Pye said.

“Very few people saw him, but everybody loved him.”

Now that a new mountain lion is in town, it is a chance for experts to study how it adapts to America’s second largest city.

“I think it’s a sign that wildness has not given up on LA,” Ms Pratt said.