LOS ANGELES – A famous Hollywood mountain lion is the chief suspect in a grisly crime.
Los Angeles Zoo officials say a koala went missing on March 3 and its bloody, partially eaten remains were found a short time later found outside the zoo.
The night before the koala was found, P-22, a 7-year-old male puma, was seen on black and white surveillance video near the zoo inside Griffith Park, the sprawling urban wilderness that he calls home.
The big cat may have managed to leap a 9-foot-high fence to reach the koala enclosure and snatch Killarney, a 14-year-old female that was the oldest koala in the exhibit.
She had a habit of leaving the trees and wandering around on the ground at night, zookeepers said.
However, the evidence against P-22 is circumstantial, zoo director John Lewis and other officials acknowledged Thursday.
The attack itself wasn't recorded, and there are other predators, such as bobcats and coyotes, that were capable of killing the koala.
The remaining 10 koalas have been removed from the outside enclosure. Zoo workers are taking extra precautions, such as locking up smaller animals in barns at night.
"Unfortunately, these types of incidents happen when we have a zoo in such close proximity to one of the largest urban parks in the country," Barbara Romero, Los Angeles deputy mayor for city services, said in a statement.
P-22 wears a tracking collar and was famously photographed near the Hollywood sign for National Geographic. The 130-pound cat crossed two freeways to enter the 4,355-acre park several years ago.
He is one of only a handful of young cougars that have managed to reach Southern California habitat. Many have died under the wheels of cars. Others have succumbed to rat poison, possibly from eating something that consumed the poison, such as a ground squirrel, or something that preyed on the rodent.
It's a lonely life with little chance of finding a mate. Cougars typically need ranges of 75 to 200 square miles for hunting and breeding, while P-22's habitat is around 8 square miles.
The attack is just one more reason that P-22 should move, City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said.
"Regardless of what predator killed the koala, this tragedy just emphasizes the need to contemplate relocating P-22 to a safer, more remote wild area where he has adequate space to roam without the possibility of human interaction," O'Farrell said.
Last year, P-22 wandered out of the park and lolled under a crawlspace of a home in the nearby Los Feliz neighborhood, attracting a media frenzy until he finally wandered home.
"P-22 is maturing, will continue to wander and runs the risk of a fatal freeway crossing as he searches for a mate. ... We should consider resettling him in the environment he needs," Mitchell said.
But fellow Councilman David Ryu said it would be a mistake to evict P-22. "Mountain lions are a part of the natural habitat of Griffith Park and the adjacent hillsides" Ryu said.
The zoo's director also disagreed.
"There's a lot of native wildlife in this area. This is their home," Lewis said. "So we'll learn to adapt to P-22 just like he's learned to adapt to us."
Beth Pratt-Bergstrom, California director of the National Wildlife Federation, called for detente.
"Mountain lions are called ghost cats for a reason. They are solitary animals that want to be left alone," she said in a statement. "P-22 lives in an urban park visited by millions of people and is rarely seen, demonstrating what we already know — it is possible to peacefully coexist and the risk of danger is very low."