Quantcast
Animals
A coyote photographed by the motion-activated camera along the Los Angles River. National Park Service

Cities: Where the Wild Things Are

By Jeff Turrentine

I used to live in a hilly, temperate corner of the American west, right near the banks of a meandering river. On late-evening walks with my two dogs, I would routinely encounter all manner of economy-size mammalian wildlife: skunks, raccoons, opossums, coyotes. Sightings of a mountain lion in the area had occurred more than once, though my dogs and I were perfectly happy never to have chanced upon him. During the day, it wasn't unusual to see red-tailed hawks or turkey vultures circling overhead, or rigid V-formations of migrating Canada geese, or even the occasional egret or blue heron swooping down as it made its descent to its riparian home.


Oh, wait, I left out an important detail: My dogs and I were walking in the heart of Los Angeles—within earshot of the considerable traffic noise emanating from the I-5 Freeway, about 15 minutes from downtown as the crow (or the turkey vulture) flies. We were proximate, too, to Griffith Park, which at more than eight square miles is one of the largest urban parks of its kind, as well as one of the least developed. Our local mountain lion, the rather ignobly named P-22, called Griffith Park home; he's still there, in fact, roaming the hills and doing what mountain lions do, minding his own carnivorous business while largely (if not totally) steering clear of awkward interactions with humans and the built environment.

I couldn't help but think of P-22, and of my old wild stomping ground, when I learned that researchers from the National Park Service had recently installed cameras along 30 miles of the Los Angeles River and its tributaries. The LA River Wildlife Camera Project aims to document the abundance of fauna skulking, skittering and waddling along this waterway, to better understand their relationship to the river and—importantly—to increase public awareness of urban wildlife, in hopes of reducing instances of human-animal conflict.

Los Angeles is far from unique as an urban haven for unexpected forms of wildlife. Berlin is currently home to more than 3,000 wild boars, which unabashedly forage in parks and front yards. In Mumbai, one of the world's most densely populated cities, more than 40 leopards wander the streets in and around Sanjay Gandhi National Park, often applying their instinctive predatory skills to the city's sizable population of feral dogs. Coyote sightings are becoming more and more common in New York and Chicago. In March, John McPhee, the longtime New Yorker contributor, wrote colorfully of his fascination with the estimated 2,500 black bears that live (and sometimes steal cupcakes out of parked cars) in his home state of New Jersey. If you've ever visited Austin, Texas, and not been bitten by a mosquito, you can thank the 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats that live beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge downtown.

As our civilization encroaches further and further into wildlife habitat, we find ourselves sharing space with more and more creatures that we don't expect to find in our midst. But to paraphrase one commenter to a YouTube video featuring a mama bear and her cubs frolicking in a backyard swimming pool: They're not in our backyards, we're in their front yards. When we build on wildlife habitat, the land doesn't suddenly become "ours" and no longer "theirs." It becomes shared. And as the most recent arrivals, we humans have an obligation—a moral and ecological imperative, you might even say—to understand the ways, habits and needs of the communities that we're asking to join.

A deer seems to spot the camera along the Los Angeles River.National Park Service

In Los Angeles, the LA River Wildlife Camera Project is being conducted in partnership with the larger Urban Wildlife Information Network, a Chicago-based consortium of scientists and researchers dedicated to helping cities "understand the ecology and behavior of their own wildlife species ... why animals in different cities behave differently, and what patterns hold true around the world." Images of animals caught on camera will be uploaded to Zooniverse, a platform for crowdsourced research where volunteers can share ideas and engage in citizen-science scholarship, which often proves to be of immense value to academic researchers.

The LA River, an ecologically vital yet troubled waterway, is a prime subject for such study. At 51 miles long, the river begins in the San Fernando Valley north of the city and winds its way through neighborhoods industrial, residential and semi-rural before finally emptying into the Pacific Ocean at Long Beach. Environmentalists, political leaders, scientists and civil engineers recently embarked on an ambitious plan to restore it, a major component of which will entail reconnecting the channelized waterway to its historic tributaries, wetlands and floodplains—i.e., to historic wildlife habitat. Initiatives like the Camera Project have the potential to spur public support and private funding, because through compelling photographic evidence, the essential relationships among local people, local resources, and local wildlife are made clear.

As I learned on those late-night walks with my dogs: You're never really alone in the big city, even when there are no other people around. The more we learn about the animals within our shared communities, the more we learn about what they—and we—need in order to coexist harmoniously and sustainably. And that's about as good a definition of neighborliness as you're ever likely to come across.

Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.

Show Comments ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Sponsored
Popular
Kodachrome25 / Getty Images

Roof-to-Garden: How to Irrigate with Rainwater

By Brian Barth

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day, a third for irrigation and other outdoor uses. Collecting the water flowing down your downspouts in rainstorms so you can use it to irrigate in dry periods is often touted as a simple way to cut back. But setting up a functional rainwater irrigation system—beyond the ubiquitous 55-gallon barrels under the downspout, which won't irrigate much more than a flower bed or two—is a fairly complicated DIY project.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
A family wears face masks as they walk through the smoke filled streets after the Thomas wildfire swept through Ventura, California on Dec. 6, 2017. MARK RALSTON / AFP / Getty Images

How to Protect Your Children From Wildfire Smoke

By Cecilia Sierra-Heredia

We're very careful about what our kids eat, but what about the air they breathe?

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Hero Images / Getty Images

Study: Children Have Better Nutrition When They Live Near Forests

Spending time in nature is known to boost mental and emotional health. Now, a new global study has found that children in 27 developing nations tend to have more diverse diets and better nutrition when they live near forests.

The paper, published Wednesday in Science Advances, provides evidence that forest conservation can be an important tool in promoting better nutrition in developing countries, rather than clear-cutting forests for more farmland.

Keep reading... Show less
Health
Navy torpedo bomber spraying DDT just above the trees in Goldendale, WA in 1962. USDA Forest Service

Maternal DDT Exposure Linked to Increased Autism Risk

A study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry Thursday found that mothers exposed to the banned pesticide DDT were nearly one-third more likely to have children who developed autism, Environmental Health News reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
GMO
Significant cupping of leaves from dicamba drift on non-Xtend soybeans planted next to Xtend beans in research plots at the Ashland Bottoms farm near Manhattan, KS. Dallas Peterson, K-State Research and Extension / CC BY 2.0

Top Seed Companies Urge EPA to Limit Dicamba

Two of the nation's largest independent seed sellers, Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place limits on the spraying of the drift-prone pesticide dicamba, Reuters reported.

This could potentially hurt Monsanto, which along with DowDupont and BASF SE, makes dicamba formulations to use on Monsanto's Xtend seeds that are genetically engineered to resist applications of the weedkiller. Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, as well as other companies, sell those seeds.

Keep reading... Show less
Food
Baby son in high chair feeding father. Getty Images

Baby Food Tests Find 68 Percent Contain 'Worrisome' Levels of Heavy Metals

Testing published by Consumer Reports (CR) Thursday found "concerning levels" of toxic metals in popular U.S. baby and toddler food.

The consumer advocacy group tested 50 nationally-distributed, packaged foods designed for toddlers and babies for mercury, cadmium, arsenic and lead.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to journalists outside the White House West Wing before attending a Trump cabinet meeting on Aug. 16. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Zinke Announces Plan to Fight Wildfires With More Logging

The Trump administration announced a new plan Thursday to fight ongoing wildfires with more logging, and with no mention of additional funding or climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Wangan and Jagalingou cultural leader Adrian Burragubba visits Doongmabulla Springs in Australia. The Wangan and Jagalingou are fighting a proposed coal mine that would likely destroy the springs, which are sacred to the Indigenous Australian group. Wangan and Jagalingou

Indigenous Australians Take Fight Against Giant Coal Mine to the United Nations

By Noni Austin

For tens of thousands of years, the Wangan and Jagalingou people have lived in the flat arid lands of central Queensland, Australia. But now they are fighting for their very existence. Earlier this month, they took their fight to the United Nations after years of Australia's failure to protect their fundamental human rights.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!