In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught, environmentalist Baba Dioum said.
The Cat That Changed America, a documentary that explores the plight of P22 a 7-year-old mountain lion who became trapped in LAs Griffith Park after crossing two of the busiest freeways in America, the 405 and the 101, as he searched for a habitat, and who suffered a rodenticide-related severe case of mange premiered at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival Feb. 10 and 11. It will be shown at UCLAs James Bridges Theater at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 16.
P22 is both a luminary and a liaison.
He is famous for having set up shop in Griffith Park in an 8-square-mile area amidst millions of Angelinos, and for being in a National Geographic photo taken by wildlife conservation photographer Steve Winters, showing the powerful, imposing and elusive big cat under the Hollywood sign.
Indeed, in October 2016, the City of Los Angeles declared a P22 Day.
The mountain lion has his own Facebook page, and thousands of people follow his every move and bemoan his every plight.
P22 is essentially trapped in Griffith Park, presumably chary to try crossing the freeways again. Therefore, it is unlikely he will ever have a mate because another cat most likely would not dare to emulate the trek he undertook. Further, Griffin Park is too small to sustain two mountain lions.
The big cats status as an unwilling bachelor is a conundrum many lament.
P22 serves as a messenger about the need for humans to have a renewed view on issues relating to human encroachment threatening wildlife habitats, the need for landscape connectivity so species of animals can breed and keep enough DNA diversity for their species to survive, and the horrific and life-threatening effects that rodenticides have on wildlife.
Advocates are using P22s celebrity status to advocate for change and to increase awareness.
P22s situation illustrates how there is a desperate need to address two primary threats to mountain lions: wildlifes increasing inability to have landscape connectivity, and the use of rodenticides, commonly known as rat poison.
Malibu Surfside News took in the premiere of The Cat That Changed America. The documentary depicts P22s miraculous but mysterious odyssey from his birthplace in the Santa Monica Mountains to Griffith Park. It also revealed the big cats amazing survival skills as he makes do with a habitat area that is less than 3 percent of the usual habitat for a grown male mountain lion, in an urban park that has 5 million visitors a year and overlooks Griffith Observatory, Universal Studios, Warner Brothers, freeways and the Los Angeles skyline.
The thought-provoking film thoroughly impressed attendees and engendered an engaging question and answer session with director Tony Lee, Alex Rapaport, cinematographer, Kian and Joel Schulman of Poison Free Malibu, biologist and activist Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, and Miguel Ordenana, the Wildlife Biologist with the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County who first captured an image of P22 on a camera positioned in Griffith Park.
The documentary does a stellar job of informing about the details regarding the effects of rodenticide on animals high up in the food chain, such as P22.
Quoting a National Park Service study, the film explains that there is a direct link between exposure to anticoagulant rodenticides and deaths in wildlife in and around the Santa Monica Mountains. Rats and other rodents who eat rodenticide do not die right away and, indeed, may become lethargic as they approach death, making them easy prey for larger predators.
Showing a clear and detailed schematic explaining the trauma mountain lions can suffer due to rat poison, the film explained that predators such as raptors, snakes and other larger predators consume poisoned rodents. Mountain lions feed on the smaller predators that are laced with lethal poison.
Anti-coagulant rodenticide has compounds that interrupt blood clotting, leading to uncontrolled bleeding and death.
As of November 2015, 12 of 13 mountain lions whom the National Park Service is monitoring tested positive for exposure, and two died from poisoning.
When the film showed the pathetic state P22 was in due to mange, the audience palpably gasped in horror and sadness. Luckily, scientists were able to treat the condition and P22 has recovered.
The documentary thoroughly explained that rodenticide is not the answer to rodent problems. Rather, Kian Schulman of Poison Free Malibu explained, it is best to use a pest prevention and exclusion specialist who can determine how rats and other pests are entering a home or an area,rather than an exterminator. Simple things such as ensuring spaces are clear of debris help immensely.
The film also addressed the efforts to build a wildlife corridor, including a vegetated overpass, at Liberty Canyon and the 101, where there is remains a sliver of preserved habitat. That would allow mountain lions and other animals to cross above the freeway and migrate to adjacent mountain ranges to seek mates.
The proposed corridor and overpass would be the largest in the world.
Sherry Mangel-Ferber, who is featured in the film, is one of the strongest advocates for building the wildlife corridor to enable the mountain lions to have landscape connectivity. She sees the need for the corridor as crucial.
Without landscape connectivity, a recent scientific study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests that mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains will be extinct in 50 years.
Efforts to build the corridor are underway, and participants seek to raise $50 million so the overpass can be built by 2021.
The Cat That Changed America is superbly shot and edited, and does a terrific job of integrating the discussion about the threats mountain lions and other wildlife face.
I thought the film was educational and made the point that all creatures are part of the whole, said Patt Healy, a Malibu resident, environmental activist and pragmatist. Were not meant to be separate from one another.
Director Tony Lee was pleased with the turnout and the response.
This is a very timely film because of the current state of the planet, Lee said. P22 has such celebrity status that he can help this important story be told.
Other attendees wholeheartedly agreed.
The film was fantastic. Alex and Tony have managed to show the serious educational angle regarding this topic, Joel Schulman said after the show. Southern California will love this film.
For more information …
For details on The Cat That Changed America, visit http://www.thecatthatchangedamerica.com.
For more on the proposed Liberty Canyon wildlife crossing, visit http://www.savelacougars.org.
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