Photo Credit: Steve Winter – National Geographic
Her killer walked right in.
It was March 3, 2016, a cool spring morning, when Killarney, the oldest of the Los Angeles Zoo’s 11 koalas, was discovered missing. A search party quickly fanned out, hoping for the best. The 14-year-old koala was known for wandering her enclosure at night, so maybe she’d simply found a way through the fencing. But just 400 yards from the zoo’s Australia section, zookeepers found her still warm corpse. Half of her face was missing.
A review of security footage answered the most pressing question: The perpetrator was caught on camera, slinking through the zoo the night of the murder. He was one of the city’s most celebrated residents, covered regularly in the Los Angeles Times and once in National Geographic. Killarney’s killer was none other than P-22, the “Lion of Hollywood.” L.A. is mostly associated with palm tree–lined boulevards and TMZ celebrity tours, but Tinseltown is also surrounded by 10,000- foot mountains teeming with wildlife — deer, bobcats, bighorn sheep, California condors, and, yes, mountain lions. The state has roughly 6,000 big cats overall, but P-22 is by far its most famous, largely because he lives in inescapable proximity to some 4 million Angelenos. His home, the city’s 4,500-acre Griffith Park, is one of the largest urban parks in America, full of oak trees and shrubland. But his seven-square-mile range is the smallest ever recorded for an adult lion. As such, P-22 has become a case study in human coexistence with apex predators.