About two weeks ago, National Geographic photographer Steve Winter posted a stunning night time photo of a bobcat pausing on a Griffith Park trail. The image is so gorgeously composed and lit it looks almost staged. This beautiful and elusive animal seemed to be almost posing with the city lights and freeways behind it.
Check out the that photo and many other amazing wildlife images at Steve Winter’s instagram account.
What struck me about the photo is how well it captures the inherent contradiction of living in Los Angeles. We are a major metropolitan center existing on the edges of wilderness.
Living among 16,000,000 people it’s easy to forget that.
Having nature right at our doorstep is both a great privilege and a great challenge. Just beyond the brush line is a whole world struggling to adapt to their relatively new human neighbors.
And part of that world happens to include mountain lions.
The Story of P22, Griffith Park’s Most Famous Feline
On March 12, 2012, the ghostly image of a mountain lion was caught on camera in Griffith Park. Although mountain lions are known to inhabit the western edges of the Santa Monica Mountains, this was the first evidence of a puma east of the 101 Freeway.
Not long after that photo, biologists were able to capture the cat and place a GPS collar on him to learn more about mountain lion behavior here. This cat was a 3-year old male in good health and weighing in at about 120 lbs. While bobcats in our area tend to grow to about 3 feet in length, and adult male can be as large as 7 to 8 feet long. That’s a lot of kitty.
Check out the video of P22 here.
Despite their imposing size, most experts say that humans have little to fear from mountain lions. They are usually quite shy and encounters with humans are very rare. These cats are top of the food chain predators usually preying on local mule deer, although they will take down the occasional coyote or racoon.
If you want to learn more about mountain lions and other predators in the Santa Monica Mountain, check out Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict, and Conservation edited by Stanley D. Gehrt, Seth P. D. Riley and Brian L. Cypher.
Sadly, when P22 was recaptured by researchers he was very ill and suffering from mange. He also tested positive for high levels of rat poison.
Rat Poison and Freeways Threaten Mountain Lions and Bobcats
The rat poison found in P22’s system is the type typically used in bait traps set outside of homes. The poison works as an anticoagulent in rats. However, scientists speculate that the toxin weakens the immune system of larger animals allowing parasites to take over and resulting in diseases such as the mange found in P22.
Rat poison harms other predators as well. In one study of bobcats conducted in 1996, a mange epidemic swept through the population killing 20 out the 30 bobcats under observation.
Since that time, some types of rat poison have been banned. However, several others remain in use.
The other significant threat to large predators in southern California is lack of roaming space. Adult male pumas can have territories as large as 200 square miles. In comparison, Griffith Park is about 6 square miles. Housing development and especially freeway construction has cut off the natural roaming grounds for these cats, leaving them stranded in unsustainable territories.
Concerned agencies such as the National Park Service, California Department of Parks & Recreation, California Department of Fish & Game and The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy are working to identifying the best place to place wildlife corridors. These corridors would create passageways linking various greenbelts.
What You Can Do to Help
If you’re currently using rat poison around your home or business, stop.
They are plenty of safe, effective alternatives that can replace these deadly chemicals. Learn more about them here.
The thing about nature is, once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Fortunately, there are plenty of dedicated people working hard to preserve one of the things that makes the Hollywood Hills and the rest of the southland so special.
You might just be one of them.