Mountain Lions In L.A.

On May 20, 2024, a mountain lion was sighted in Griffith Park. NHM's Miguel Ordeñana, the Senior Manager of Community Science and big cat expert, answers our questions about the pumas in our midst.

miguel ordeñana in P-22 exhibit

Miguel Ordeñana, the Senior Manager of Community Science at NHM, was the first person to spot the beloved P-22 in 2012 while working on a study about how the wildlife in the massive urban park connects to the rest of the city. P-22 passed away in 2022 and leaves a lasting legacy. We asked Ordeñana about what Angelenos can do to protect these wild neighbors and how to behave if they spot one.

What things can people do to help mountain lions stay safe if they show up in their neighborhood?

If they are fans and want to get a picture, it might make a mountain lion feel cornered, followed, and unsafe, and they could dart across the street and get hit by a car. People can unintentionally put them in danger. If we care about the animals, we need to give them their space. Also, the more you can keep your pets indoors or make sure they have enclosures, that will keep your property and wildlife safe. The Cougar Conservancy is a great resource for more information about cougar coexistence.

Can you talk about wildlife corridors and why are they important? 

The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing will be unique. The attention that crossing gets will inspire conservation leaders and leadership, in general, to be supportive of habitat connectivity. Making it easier for animals to cross all of our freeways is something we should invest in. If we wait too long it’s hard to do that retroactively. As we add more lanes or more development up against the freeway we need to consider wildlife and habitat connectivity first. It’s the only place where there’s protected open space on either side of the 101 freeway. 

It’s been a challenge to keep contiguous habitat protected all the way up to the edge of a freeway, especially on both sides. The L.A. River is not only a habitat but also a valuable corridor, and much safer to go through than residential neighborhoods when traveling from one patch of green space to another. That is what I hope people think about in the future, now that we are revitalizing the L.A. River. The more accommodating we can be, the better and the longer they will be able to sustain themselves for years to come. 

socal map p-22 exhibit
The same extensive freeway system that makes driving in L.A. convenient (in theory) makes it hard for mountain lions to survive while finding mates and meals.

What advice would you give someone who comes upon a mountain lion?

I think it's important to know that—just like us—they are all individuals and respond to new environments differently, especially in a highly urban habitat that is drastically different from what they are used to. If you see one, slowly go the other way and keep your distance. Go back to your car or house. Never run away. Don’t crouch down because you’ll look like prey. Don’t stare. Mountain lions have proved time and time again that they have no interest in people. If they seem to walk toward you and likely one never will, then it’s time to make noise and look big.

Hear more from Miguel in this video: 

Read more below about NHM's P-22 Exhibition and the beloved feline's lasting legacy, and watch a video about the promise of a wildlife crossing.