The Cat That Changed America: Giving Urban Wildlife Voice

The story of Los Angeles mountain lion P22 is a model for peaceful coexistence.

Posted Aug 30, 2017

A new film called The Cat that Changed America could play a huge role in changing people's attitudes toward urban wildlife. The trailer can be seen here, and the film's description reads:

P22 is the most famous mountain lion in the world, living in Griffith Park, right in the heart of Los Angeles. He was born in the Santa Monica Mountains, and crossed two of the busiest freeways in America, the 405 and the 101, before he settled in the park. Yet P22 is now trapped, hemmed in by freeways and the urban sprawl, with little chance of ever finding a mate. Now a new documentary film will explore his plight and the development of the wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon in Los Angeles. Angelenos and local conservationists alike are battling to help P22 and the mountain lions of the Santa Monica Mountains, as they try to raise $50 million dollars, while facing resistance from public ignorance and the spread of rodenticides.

Urban wildlife need all the help they can get as they struggle to adapt to a human dominated world, and I was very pleased that Tony Lee, executive producer for the BBC and producer and director of The Cat that Changed America, was able to answer a few questions about this new film. Our interview went as follows.

Courtesy of Tony Lee
Source: Courtesy of Tony Lee

Why did you make your movie?

It was a story that had to be told. I was in awe of the resilience and fortitude of this cat, P22 [the 22nd puma caught in a study around Los Angeles], who crossed two major freeways. I also had an intense physical reaction when I heard about the extent of the rodenticide poisoning, and thought that the public should be aware of the devastating effects upon our wildlife.

What are your major messages? 

Habitat loss and fragmentation is the number one threat to wildlife worldwide. The issue facing P22 and the lions of the Santa Monica mountains is something facing all big cats. We are also poisoning the earth, whether it be with pesticides, rodenticides and pollution. 

Who is your intended audience? 

Everyone. The more people who become aware of the issues, the more this documentary can instigate change. I believe, just like Blackfish, this documentary has the potential to change people's habits.

How has the film been received and what changes do you see?

The film has been very well received since its premiere at the Santa Barbara Film Festival this year. Since then, it has played in selected venues in Southern California, and has been officially selected to play at the Downtown LA Film Festival in September. People are changing their attitudes towards rodenticides and are asking how they can be involved and help with the fundraising of the wildlife crossing.

Are you hopeful that images of cats will change in the future? 

Absolutely, rather than being afraid, I hope people realise that we can co-exist with wildlife, even in a metropolis like Los Angeles.

What are some of your current and future projects?

I'm currently working as an executive producer for the BBC on a new natural history series. I'm also looking for ideas for a follow up to The Cat That Changed America, but P22 is a hard act to follow!

P22's story can help people rewild their hearts

Thank you very much, Tony. And thanks to the many people who are selflessly working on behalf of P22 and many other urban animals. P22 surely is not alone in trying to survive in an urban setting. 

I hope that The Cat that Changed America will enjoy a broad global audience because urban animals all over the world are intensely competing with humans— far too many of us—for their very lives. P22 is a perfect symbol for urban wildlife and is an inspirational model for peaceful coexistence. I can easily see how his story will help people reconnect with nature and other animals and rewild their hearts. And, I'm sure that conservation psychologists and anthrozoologists will find lots of food for thought for further studies of human-animal relationships in his story. 

The life of every individual matters, and, as Jessica Pierce and I stress in our book The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age, the time is right now—but it's actually long overdue—for humans to accept other animals into their lives and to make changes to give them the best lives possible as they struggle to survive in an increasingly human dominated world. The epoch called the Anthropocene, or "the age of humanity," has become "the rage of inhumanity." Surely we can and must do more for other animals in our midst.

Note: The next screening is at the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival on Friday September 29th at 7.00pm, Regal Live Cinema.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate ConservationWhy Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and ConservationRewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and CoexistenceThe Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do will be published in early 2018. Learn more at