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UCLA

Big Cats, Big City

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By Mary Daily and Alison Hewitt

Published Jul 1, 2015 8:00 AM


The wildest Angelenos are not starlets or movie moguls.

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Photo: National Park Service

Mention of Los Angeles conjures images of massive urban density. Ten million people. Cars. Freeways. Smog. But wildlife? People unfamiliar with the city would be shocked to learn that the place is teeming with coyotes, raccoons, deer, rattlesnakes, bobcats and mountain lions, to name a few. As developed as it is, the city is built in and around canyons and ravines where animals can hide out and take smaller creatures for food. In the midst of a drought, the animals roam into heavily populated areas to find food and water.

The city’s mountain lions in particular have been in the news of late for encroaching upon the world of human Angelenos. The fact that they’re here at all is “pretty amazing,” says UCLA Assistant Adjunct Professor Seth Riley, who has been tracking 40 of these animals in the Santa Monica Mountains with GPS collars since 2002. “Los Angeles is probably the only megacity in the world with a major carnivore. That speaks to the amazing conservation of wildlife and habitat here, but it’s something we may not have much longer.”

One of the animals Riley tracks, P-22, created a media storm in April after Los Feliz homeowners found him napping under their house. “Mountain lions like to hang out somewhere cool and dark during the day,” Riley says, adding that P-22, like other local cats, spends most of his time in Griffith Park. “In general, less than 1 percent of their data points are around urban areas.”

Last March, the animal known as P-33 became the first tracked Santa Monica Mountains puma to cross a freeway in six years. In late April, her brother, P-32, followed her across the U.S. 101. “They were dispersing from their mother and looking for their own territory,” says Riley, who’s also a wildlife ecologist for Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, part of the National Park Service. Previously, many lions had come right up to the freeway, but had then walked away.

The 101 is a huge development corridor, Riley says, with almost no natural habitat. He and his colleagues hope to get a wildlife crossing built to safely connect the animals with other areas.

The lions pose essentially no danger to humans, he says: “We have never heard of any aggressive mountain lion behavior toward people.” Still, he advises parents to keep smaller kids close when in potential mountain lion country, and pet owners to safeguard small domestic animals.

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