P-22, as he’s known to the scientists who study him, is the star of two documentary movies, four books and innumerable photos captured by trail cameras, surveillance stills and the few people lucky enough to catch a glimpse of him.
The 12-year-old mountain lion is instantly recognizable by his radio collar and his derpy, wide-eyed look.
But he’s also a predator, as the National Park Service reminded the public on Monday when it confirmed P-22 was indeed the puma who stalked a dog walker accompanying two pooches on Nov. 9. P-22 struck in full darkness about 90 minutes after sundown, snatched one of the unfortunate pet dogs and was bolting away before the walker even had time to react.
The incident was captured by a security camera in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, and grainy video shows P-22 leaping out of a bush and pouncing on a chihuahua named Piper. After consulting GPS data from the radio collar and reviewing the surveillance footage, the National Park Service confirmed it was the famous wild cat.
“They are stealth predators,” the National Wildlife Federation’s Beth Pratt told the LA Times. “They’re called ‘ghost cats’ for a reason. This is how they get their prey. It’s not like the vision of lions in Africa that chase down their prey on the plains.”
While noting people are “more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion,” Pratt warned that small pets can resemble the large feline’s natural prey. While P-22 usually hunts deer and foxes near Griffith Park in Hollywood Hills, pumas are also known to take down smaller prey and are opportunistic predators like their house cat and big cat cousins. (Despite their size, pumas — known as mountain lions, cougars and catamounts among many other names — are not considered true “big cats.”)
“It’s sad that P-22 killed a beloved pet,” Pratt told the Times. “But he doesn’t know that. He was just being a mountain lion.”
Daniel Jiminez, Piper’s owner, told Los Angeles’ KTLA that he and his wife are “devastated at the loss of our little dog.”
He said he thought his dog walker was joking when, while out celebrating his daughter’s birthday, he received a text from the walker saying Piper had been taken by a mountain lion. The Jiminez family adopted Piper in 2014.
Jiminez says he wants people to know what happened so they’re vigilant when walking their dogs in the area.
“I don’t want anything bad to happen to P-22,” said Jimenez. “I just want people to be safe out there so that nothing like this happens again.”
No one tell NewsCorp that “black pumas” don’t exist, pumas are native to the Americas, leopards are native to Africa and Asia, and a “black panther” is a color morph, not a species of cat.
A story from Fox News — prompted by a similar story in the UK’s Sun, part of the same Rupert Murdoch-owned media conglomerate — claims the British are “unnerved” by an “uptick” in sightings of cryptid big cats. The mysterious creatures are supposedly running rampant in the British countryside and in the suburbs, according to the article, which identifies them as black pumas, black panthers and black leopards.
Oddly, the story says the sightings are up significantly because there have been three “big cat” sightings in October, immediately before informing readers there are 2,000 such sightings in the UK every year.
Little Buddy and I are not exactly known for our math skills, but 2,000 sightings a year works out to 167 sightings per month, which is a lot more than three. Fifty five times more, in fact. So the story should really be about a dramatic dip in phantom big cat sightings, shouldn’t it?
What evidence does the Fox report cite for its breathless claim about big cats taking over the UK? A pair of grainy security camera videos, including one showing a “big cat sighting” at night, and the word of a “big cat sighting expert,” alternately called a “countryside expert” in other media reports, who by the way happens to be hawking a documentary on the sightings.
“It’s a crucial issue,” self-described wildcat expert Rick Minter told The Sun. “How do we come to terms with living alongside big cats in Britain?”
For readers unfamiliar with the highest echelons of reputable journalism, The Sun is the UK’s foremost bastion of trustworthy reporting, a tabloid par excellence whose editorial staff are known for breaking stories about “crazed werewolves” and immigrants barbecuing the late queen’s swans when they weren’t running topless photos of models on Page 3. The Sun is owned by NewsCorp, the parent company of Fox News.
As for the two pieces of footage, one is the aforementioned blurry mess recorded by a home security camera at night, and shows a few frames of a cat’s behind and a tail as the felid walks out of the frame. The other is a blurry clip the credulous claim depicts a large cat feeding on a sheep. There’s no indication the figure is a felid of any type.
As far as we’re concerned, there are a few possible explanations for the sightings:
They’re former pets
If there are indeed big cats roaming the British countryside and suburbs, they would have to be former pets of people who acquired them on the illegal wildlife market, broke the law by “importing” them into the UK, then broke several additional laws by keeping them as pets until the cats quickly grew and the owners realized keeping them is untenable.
Such situations aren’t unheard of, obviously, but they can’t account for a dozen big cats on the loose at any one time, much less more than a thousand as Minter claims.
More importantly, big cats who are taken from their mothers as days-old cubs, sold as pets and later dumped are universally confused, terrified and unable to fend for themselves. They end up roaming suburbia in broad daylight, like a nine-month-old tiger named India who was spotted wandering around the outskirts of Houston in 2021, sniffing out potential food in garbage cans because they don’t know how to hunt.
If these phantom big cats were former pets, they’d be spotted, captured and taken to sanctuaries within a matter of days.
They’re small wildcats formerly native to the area, like the Eurasian lynx
The problem is, the Eurasian lynx was extirpated from the UK about 1,400 years ago. There have been debates among conservationists about reintroducing wild populations to the British countryside — and to Ireland — but no concrete plans as of yet. Proponents say the lynx could be beneficial, keeping deer populations level without major human intervention.
Eurasian lynx adults can grow to about the size of medium dogs, so it’s possible they can be mistaken for “big cats” in blurry video, especially when perspective and/or lack of other objects makes it difficult to place their actual size in context. However, as with big cats, any Eurasian lynx spotted in the UK are likely to be former pets.
If witnesses in the UK are mistaking house cats for big cats, they wouldn’t be the first.
One wildlife ranger in Australia became so annoyed with fielding frequent big cat reports that he implored people to educate themselves.
“People need to get over the idea the cats are panthers,” wildlife ranger Tim Gilbertson told Australia’s ABC news. “It is just not on. They are big feral cats, at least 50% bigger than a house cat and they are powerful.”
The usual issues are in play here: Fuzzy security camera footage, night sightings, confused witnesses. You’d think there would be more phantom big cat sightings in the US, since pumas can grow to the size of jaguars and could be mistaken for lions, but people who live in areas where pumas range tend to know they’re around and what they look like. They’re also the definition of scaredy cats, reluctant to let humans spot them or get anywhere near them.
Ultimately, witness reports count don’t count for much, and not just because memory is malleable.
Thousands of people have reported seeing Bigfoot, chupacabras, the Jersey Devil and the Loch Ness monster, but those creatures are all firmly in cryptid territory.
There’s Occam’s Razor, and there’s common sense: For a primate species like Bigfoot to exist, for example, there would need to be a breeding population, enough prey for the creatures to feed themselves, and someone somewhere would have found remains at some point. (Bigfoot sightings go back to the days before Columbus set foot on New World shores, but it’s only been in the last century or so that the cryptid has entered the popular imagination via folklore and media.)
Likewise, if there are indeed 1,000 big cats prowling the British countryside, as Minter claims, there would be a breeding population, ubiquitous tracks and the remains of prey animals killed in ways consistent with big cat ambush techniques. Cats of all sizes are ambush hunters and have a distinct way of killing prey which is unlike other animals.
The UK’s big cat sightings should be treated more like the UFO sightings in the US and particularly around Area 51. They start with a kernel of potential truth — the existence of a secret base to test experimental military aircraft, or the possibility that big cats who were former pets have been let loose — which leads people to consider the possibility, then when they see something they can’t easily explain, they reach for the exceptional.
But as Carl Sagan famously said, exceptional claims require exceptional proof, and it’s no accident that things like UFOs, cryptid primates and phantom big cats only appear on the grainiest, blurriest and darkest footage.
My money is on domestic cats mistaken for their much larger cousins. Maybe Buddy’s been taking some transatlantic flights under my nose. I’ll have a little chat with him about it and ask him to kindly stop terrifying our friends across the pond.
The puma goes by a lot of names. So many, in fact, that it holds the Guinness world record for the mammal with the most names, with more than 40 monikers in English alone.
Add the puma’s various appellations in Spanish and the indigenous tongues of south north America, and the large golden cat has probably had at least 100 names by a conservative estimate.
Cougar, panther, mountain lion, catamount, Florida panther, Carolina panther, ghost cat, gato monte, cuguacuarana, painter, screamer — they’re all names for puma concolor, a felid with the size of big cats in the panthera genus but genetics more closely related to non-roaring “small” cats, including felis catus.
Indeed, although pumas are famously capable of the wild cat “scream,” they’re able to purr just like house cats and their small- to medium-size wild relatives.
Why does the puma have so many monikers?
Mostly it’s because the adaptable, elusive feline has a vast range that historically covered almost the entirety of two continents:
Even today cougars exist in healthy numbers across most of South America and the western United States. They’re wanderers, with pockets of smaller populations in places like Florida and the midwest, and individual mountain lions have been spotted as far east as New York and Connecticut. (The New York region known as the Catskills, derived from “cat creek” in Dutch, was named after pumas when the area was part of their regular range.)
Throughout their history they’ve been familiar to a diverse group of human civilizations, societies, nations and peoples, from the Aztecs, Inca and Mayans, to the indigenous tribes of North America and the First Nations of Canada, to the inhabitants of modern-day countries like the US, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
But the name confusion doesn’t just stem from the puma’s many monikers bestowed by people of different cultures across space and time. The puma is also one of three cat species that are regularly called panthers. The other two, jaguars (panthera onca) and leopards (panthera pardus), are true “big cats.” That means they’re members of the genus panthera and they can roar but not purr.
Pumas are easily distinguishable from the other two: They have smooth golden fur without adornments, while jaguars and leopards both have blotches called rosettes.
It’s difficult to tell jaguars from leopards, but the biggest giveaway is the fact that jaguars have solid dot-like markings within their rosettes while leopards do not. In addition, leopards have much longer tails than jaguars or pumas, as they need the counterbalance provided by their tails to help them climb trees and balance themselves on tree limbs.
Jaguars are excellent climbers as well, but they don’t need to be as adept at living off the ground — they are the apex predators in the Americas, while leopards coexist with lions and other large animals like Cape buffalo that present a danger to the big cats even if they’re not predators.
Which brings us to our last point: Our many-named friends, the pumas, may be big and they may look dangerous, but they’re not. There have been 27 humans killed by the elusive cats in more than a century in the U.S., according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, compared to about 3,000 deaths from dog bites over the same period. Between 30 and 50 people are killed by dogs each year.
Most confrontations between humans and pumas happen when the latter are threatened and cannot escape, or when a female is protecting her cubs.
So if you live in an area where you have a chance to see these beautiful cats, admire them and keep your own kitties indoors, but don’t freak out — the puma you see one second will be gone the next.
The so-called “avid hunter,” who once boasted of serving “mountain lion teriyaki, antelope chops wrapped in bacon, and elk tenderloin” to investment bankers visiting his home, apparently wanted to kill another puma so badly that he put the word out to fellow hunters.
On Dec. 28, one of those hunters caught sight of one of the large and elusive felids just a few miles outside of a protected area near Yellowstone. The hunter unleashed his hounds on the cat, who escaped up into a tree, and kept the dogs there for hours to prevent the puma from escaping while the Mighty Hunter Gianforte drove hours to the location, got out of his car and bravely shot the terrified animal at point blank range.
What Gianforte did was not hunting, according to retired physician, naturalist and outdoorsman E. Donnal Thomas Jr., a Montanan who is well known for writing about hunting and outdoor sports.
Driving to a place where quarry has already been trapped and shooting it is “the difference between a hunter and shooter,” Thomas told the Yellowstone Mountain Journal. “He didn’t hunt the lion and he didn’t have to hike for six hours to reach it. It sounds as if all he did was walk to the bottom of the tree, pull the trigger and kill it.”
The governor may have broken the law, and certainly violated ethical guidelines, by refusing to say anything about the “hunt” and having his press office ignore phone calls, emails and public records requests by journalists. That’s primarily the reason the story is breaking now, more than two months later: Journalists were finally able to track down people with firsthand knowledge of Gianforte’s “hunt” and corroborate the details with other people who were in the know.
Gianforte has had his share of hunting incidents in the past, including two incidents in which he broke the law, once for hunting an elk without a permit, and once for killing a wolf that was radio collared and actively tracked by scientists. (He was let off with a warning.)
In that incident, Gianforte killed the wolf after it ventured out of protected lands, as he did with the mountain lion, who was also wearing a tracking collar. The cat turned out to be a five-year-old male who was monitored by staff at Yellowstone park.
If you’re wondering why Gianforte’s name sounds familiar, it’s probably because he famously assaulted and body-slammed a Guardian reporter who made the mistake of doing his job and asking Gianforte — who was a congressional candidate at the time — about his healthcare policies.
“At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” wrote Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, who witnessed the assault. “Faith [Mangan, field producer], Keith [Railey, photographer] and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, ‘I’m sick and tired of this!'”
In an audio recording of the assault, an angry Gianforte screams “Get the hell out of here!” while the shocked reporter responds, “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses!”
Hunting mountain lions should not be legal. There is no such thing as “too many mountain lions,” even by arbitrary federal standards, as the animals are rare, elusive, not hostile to humans and rarely harm people unless cornered or their cubs have been threatened. There have been between 15 and two dozen fatal encounters with mountain lions in the last century. By contrast, dogs kill an estimated 25,000 people a year.
While we refrain from discussing politics or ideology on PITB, primarily because we want all readers to feel comfortable as regulars on the site and we believe politics shouldn’t poison everything, we agree with writer Abigail Weinberg’s assessment:
“Puma. Cougar. Mountain lion. There are many names for the big cats that roam the Americas, rarely attacking humans.
But there’s only one name that springs to mind for Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte: Asshole.”
I think that’s because he feels safe here, he’s got plenty of places to hide if he wants, and he’s got a big cat tunnel with four ways in or out. He doesn’t need another little space to crawl into.
Still, like any cat, the little dude likes a good box. When he gets to play with a new box he likes to sniff it, rub against it once or twice, then jump inside and determine if it’s comfortable. Then he gets serious, looks around, and slowly sinks down below the top of the box…
…and remains there for a few seconds before cautiously raising his head and looking around. Usually this is accompanied by a delighted trill, and I get the strong sense that he thinks he’s invisible to anyone outside the box while he has the advantage of seeing them.
“You cannot see Buddy, but Buddy sees you!”
Does he ambush me from the box? Does a bear crap in the woods?
There isn’t an abundance of research into why cats love boxes so much, but the existing data combined with what we know about the feline mind strongly suggests that, first and foremost, boxes have a strong psychological effect. They make cats feel secure and well-protected.
Anyone familiar with cats knows the little furballs like to wedge themselves into hideaways, scurry under tables and hide in laundry baskets. The behavior starts in kittenhood when they’re tiny enough to crawl into shoes and sneakers.
In 2021, animal cognition grad student Gabriella Smith conducted a study in which she found cats will happily sit in Kanizsa contours with the same enthusiasm they have for boxes.
Kanizsa contours are two-dimensional. The participants created them by using tape and paper to make the shapes on the floor. They’re not even proper boxes, just the illusory suggestion of boxes or general square shapes. That doesn’t seem to matter to cats:
Research shows cats are attracted to two-dimensional boxes as well as boxes made of cardboard and other materials.
A cat sitting in an illusory Kanizsa box.
Of course pieces of tape or paper on the floor do not afford any real protection, so the feline affinity for boxes seems to be more about feeling protected.
Since cats are territorial, it could be that they also like clear boundaries around their personal space.
The key here seems to be having the boundary without blocking access, as cats are notoriously not cool with closed doors or being confined. If they want to spend an hour in a tiny space and it’s their idea, they’re fine with it, but they don’t like to be restricted by when they can come and go.
Notably, this isn’t behavior limited to felis catus. So far there doesn’t seem to be any exception to the box-loving rule among felines and felids of any species. Tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, snow leopards and pumas seem just as fond of them as their smaller cousins, as you can see in this video from Big Cat Rescue:
Boxes are comforting, cozy, fun to explore and make the perfect hiding spots for ambushes. If you’re a cat big or small, what’s not to like?
Feline humor, news and stories about the ongoing adventures of Buddy the Cat.