Urban Wildlife in the City of Angels

Lions, in Los Angeles?

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking about urban wildlife in my youngest son’s 3rd grade class at Los Feliz Charter School for the Arts. The school is located in a unique place within Los Angeles, close to the LA River. Ever since I heard about the challenges facing cougars in Los Angeles when I saw The Cat that Changed America in 2017, I have fallen in love with the story of these amazing creatures. Los Angeles and Mumbai are the only 2 major metropolitan areas that have large carnivores such as mountain lions and leopards, prowling their cities.

Impressive Animals Go Way Back

In Los Angeles, there are amazing fossil records of animals that roamed the city up until 11,000 years ago, caught in asphalt seeps and ponds at the La Brea Tar Pits. In this natural basin lived ground sloths, short-faced bears, dire wolves, Columbian mammoths, bison, camelops, and saber-toothed cats. Researchers have found the remains of truly epic animals.

Love that saber-toothed lion!

Is it any surprise then, that we would find, a large cat —puma, cougar, lion— in a mountaneous park setting in Los Angeles?

Rodenticide boxes

This is indeed true. There is a cougar that resides in Griffith Park, a park bounded by 3 freeways. Meet P-22; he has lived in this urban park since his discovery on late night video footage in 2012. In 2014, due to his diet of other animals that had eaten rats (poisoned by those rodenticide boxes we all see around buildings), sadly he almost succommed to mange. He is part of a National Park Service mountain lion study of lions from the Santa Monica Mountains. Because of his inclusion in this study, he had the good fortune to have gotten a GPS radio collar 2 years prior. Park service staff knew where he roamed. When they were ready to change his collar out, he looked like this:

Fortunately for him, human intervention was able to reverse the course of this life threatening disease. He now looks pretty good!

A more recent photo of P-22

I was so amazed by how very much these 3rd graders knew about urban wildlife-they knew about the rat poison, dangerous freeways crossings, and trash and litter that all animals close to humans must deal with.

Teacher Resources

I have created an urban wildlife logbook with some of my favorite resources in the area which can tie in with life science curricula. Students most likely have seen some of these animals. They can record their observations. This resource is available to freely download and distribute.

Also, teachers may email me for my PDF with pictures from my presentation. They illustrate the story I shared in class.

How do I Respond to These Animal’s Challenges?

It’s true, this urban wildlife story is sad—but also highly beautiful. What do I mean by that? After hearing about P-22, and getting out with my bike along the Arroyo, the Hahamongna watershed, and the LA River, I am one that has seen with my own eyes some of these beautiful animals. What must I do after this? Paint. I showed the class some photos of the work I have recently completed. I believe, every time you see and animal–be it a bird, bobcat, or a coyote–it’s a moment of magic. My paintings are about these magic moments where I observe an animal that is surviving, in spite of it all!

Stay tuned for more resources in Part II.

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