In the hour-long documentary film “The Cat That Changed America,” wildlife biologist Beth Pratt-Bergstrom compares the bold young mountain lion, P-22, who risked his life crossing freeways to take up residence in Griffith Park to another iconic American star: James Dean.
Both youngsters left their home far behind to strike out on their own in Hollywood. Both found a fame around they could not possibly have imagined – Dean in “Rebel without a Cause,” and P-22 on the cover of National Geographic. And both faced uncertain futures. Dean famously lived fast and died young, and P-22 finds himself in a tiny home range of Griffith Park, which is about eight miles square, a small fraction of the enormous ranges mature male mountain lions prefer. He is completely hemmed in by freeways: the 5 to the east, the Hollywood freeway to the west, and the 134 to the north.
“P-22 is the poster child for what’s possible in urban wildlife,” Pratt-Bergstrom declares in the film. “But he’s also the poster child for why [habitat] connectivity is needed. He’s trapped in the park, with low prospects for ever having a mate.”
The film shows Pratt-Bergstrom, who directs the National Wildlife Federation’s efforts in California, leading a hike 0f about twenty-five people tracing P-22’s journey from his natal home in the Agoura Hills area to Griffith Park. As she walks she explains how homeowners groups, the National Wildlife Federation, the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, the state Coastal Conservancy, and many others, including Ventura County supervisor Linda Parks, have come together to back a Caltrans plan to build a wildlife corridor and crossing over the 101 in Agoura Hills near Liberty Canyon. This will allow mountain lions trapped in the Santa Monica Mountains to mix with mountain lions in the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains, and greatly improve the prospects for mountain lions in urbanized Southern California. A recent study predicted that they could fall prey to an “extinction vortex,” in which low genetic diversity and interbreeding between parents and children could reduce the small population in the Santa Monica Mountains to the brink of extinction within 25-50 years.
Produced by Tony Lee, a former associate of David Attenborough’s, “The Cat That Changed America” is a charming and emotional introduction to one of the most charismatic of all species in California, and of course to the “star” of the Santa Monica Mountains, P-22. Highly recommended.
The documentary will show at 4:30 at Matilija Auditorium in the Arbolata, on Saturday, July 29, on a donation basis. Following the film will be a panel discussion on wild animals and how to live with them, chaired by Ed Begley, Jr. The panel will include Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, representatives from Poison-Free Malibu, and Dr. Robin Bernhoft of Ojai. Please come join us! Call 310-600-5356 for more information.
Donations will benefit Transition to Organics. The OV Green Coalition is co-sponsoring this event.