The real-life story of a mountain lion named P-22 reads like a Disney movie plot. P-22, a solitary mountain lion, found himself confined by the sprawling web of Los Angeles freeways, thwarting his search for a mate. But P-22’s unique journey would not only make him a celebrity in the city of stars but also inspire the creation of the world’s largest wildlife overpass.
A Hollywood Star in His Own Right
In a city known for its dazzling entertainment industry, P-22’s presence turned him into a true Hollywood star. He roamed the neighborhoods surrounding Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, fascinating locals and tourists alike. P-22’s remarkable story allowed people to see him as a neighbor rather than a threat. Diners would spot him strolling past their dining rooms and share the experience with delight.
Beth Pratt, California Director of the National Wildlife Federation, even got a tattoo of P-22 on her arm to commemorate this incredible mountain lion.
A Lonely Life in the City
P-22’s unusual celebrity status brought attention to the challenges faced by urban wildlife, particularly those struggling with the confines of the city’s six-lane 101 Freeway. While the idea of a wildlife overpass to allow animals like P-22 to roam beyond the freeway gaining traction, securing the necessary funding proved to be a significant obstacle.
Beth Pratt, typically at ease in casual outdoor attire and hiking boots, found herself in the upscale mansions of Bel Air, advocating for financial support. Remarkably, donations came pouring in from celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Rainn Wilson, Barbra Streisand, and David Crosby. Residents from Watts in South Los Angeles also rallied behind the cause, viewing P-22 as a symbol of social justice.
The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Overpass: A Path to Freedom
The Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Overpass is poised to allow 300,000 to 400,000 cars a day to pass underneath it once it opens in two years. This remarkable crossing incorporates specially designed sound walls, natural sound barriers with tall trees and lush plantings to mitigate freeway noise, which often deters wildlife. The innovative design even considers the impact of headlights on animals, ensuring they don’t get scared and turn around.
A public-private project, this overpass is spearheaded by the National Wildlife Federation and California’s transportation department. Half of the $100 million cost fund by private donations, with philanthropist Wallis Annenberg contributing $26 million, playing a pivotal role in advancing the project.
For two decades, the National Park Service meticulously researched the ideal location for the overpass. The massive freeway posed insurmountable challenges for animals. These wildlife overpasses successfully implemented in Europe, particularly the Netherlands, where they proven effective in ensuring safe wildlife passage.
Preserving Wildlife and Ensuring Safety
Wildlife crossings shown great success in various regions, including Europe and Canada. In Banff National Park, wildlife bridges and underpasses enable the safe passage of grizzly bears, black bears, moose, elk, and cougars, thus preserving their populations and allowing access to mates on both sides of the park.
In the United States, one to two million large animals are kill in vehicle accidents each year. This number, as wildlife expert Beth Pratt emphasizes, is likely underestimate, as it only includes reported crashes and doesn’t account for smaller creatures. Wildlife crossings offer an environmentally sound solution with broad public support, spanning political affiliations and geographic locations.
Beyond the ecological benefits, these projects create jobs, enhance human safety, and represent a straightforward solution to mitigate wildlife-vehicle collisions. The only missing piece of the puzzle is funding, making the dream of more wildlife overpasses a financial rather than technological challenge.
Beth Pratt concludes, “There’s no bad guy. We don’t to figure out the technology. We just need the funding.” It’s a shared responsibility to protect and coexist with wildlife, and these overpasses serve as crucial lifelines for animal populations impacted by human development.