Pumas in our Midst


I was wandering around the LA Times Festival of Books last weekend (which was terrific, by the way, and much more fun than I remember from years past), and came across a fabulous booth dedicated to the mountain lions of Los Angeles. A spritely crew from the National Wildlife Federation had several clever ways to educate the public about the pumas in our midst, from mountain lion selfies to a VR movie. Nothing like modern technology to capture the hearts and minds of the next generation, and encourage them to think about the conservation of their city.

Most folks remember this photograph of P22, a gorgeous beast who got national attention when National Geographic photographer Steve Winter caught him roaming Griffith Park near the Hollywood sign. It turns out that pumas and mountain lions and cougars are all used to describe the same creatures, several of whom are living in the mountains around our city. Most of them are tagged and tracked, and news of their comings and goings often make local news.

Beth Pratt-Bergstrom – California Director for National Wildlife Federation

I got hooked on this story because of Dana Goodyear’s excellent New Yorker article “The Lions of Los Angeles”. What’s interesting is that LA is the only major city in the world – other than Mumbai who has tigers in their midst – with wild animals roaming free. As in, when you hike in Griffith Canyon, these gorgeous beasts are most likely watching you!

“They’re called ghost cats for a reason—they’re very elusive,” Jeff Sikich, a carnivore biologist with the National Park Service, who manages the field work for the mountain-lion study, told me. “We’ve seen with our data that they do a great job at avoiding us.” But, he said, “in this urban, fragmented landscape, they see us almost every day.”

The project to bring awareness of the plight of these big cats is sponsored by a partnership between the National Wildlife Federation and the Santa Monica Mountains Fund. Beth Pratt-Bergstrom is California director for the NWF, and has created a wonderful public interest campaign — #SaveLACougars — to help us understand the big cats’  natural habitats, and understand how the city crimps their ability to roam – the cats in our area are in danger of extinction as these breeding habitats are increasingly constricted by freeways (which they can’t cross without the real and present danger of being killed).

Many Angelenos feel some fondness for the lions, and the #SaveLACougars campaign is designed to get more of us onboard so they have a chance to survive. In order for the handful of pumas to flourish here in Southern California, we’ll need to build bridges over the freeways that limit their natural need to roam. Sadly, they keep getting struck by cars and are in danger of disappearing unless we help them.

Proposed Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing

To learn more about what happens when these animals cross the freeways (and are struck), click here and, while you’re on the site, consider making a donation and perhaps advocating for freeway crossovers that could save these cats’ lives.

Meanwhile, back at the booth, I was impressed with the effort to broaden awareness – from cool trading cards to a movie that can be watched through a VR headset. You can watch the film here, and you can purchase sweatshirts and trading cards and other items here.

Beth wrote a book called “When Mountain Lions are Neighbors” which is available on her website, here.