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Camera Trap Tuesday: Islands in Los Angeles

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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“Is Griffith Park an island?” That’s the question that Miguel Ordeñana, a wildlife biologist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles who also does field work in Nicaragua, wanted to know. Griffith Park isn’t surrounded by water. It’s not found offshore, like Catalina Island, and it isn’t encircled by a moat. What Griffith Park, one of the largest urban parks in America, is surrounded by, however, is freeways. And homes, and businesses. Urban sprawl. It may be more wild and undeveloped than, say, Central Park, but the lanes of traffic that surround it may be as effective as water at keeping large animals from moving in and out, at least without becoming roadkill.

Ordeñana strategically placed camera traps at possible spots that deer, coyotes, and other critters could use to enter and exit the park in search of mates and food, hoping to find evidence of movement. Thus began the “Griffith Park Connectivity Study.”

“On February 12, 2012 at 9:15 PM,” Ordeñana writes at his blog, “we collected the ultimate evidence to prove that Griffith Park was not an island, via a mountain lion photo.” The Griffith Park mountain lion, now known as P22, has become something of a wildlife celebrity, attracting the attention even of National Geographic.

It turns out that Griffith Park is not the only island-that-isn’t in Los Angeles. Earlier this month, Ordeñana made another surprising discovery in another large urban park in Los Angeles, Debs Park. He found a bobcat. The park, found in the mainly Latino neighborhoods of northeastern Los Angeles, measures 280 acres which, though dwarfed by the 4310 acres of Griffith Park, is sizable for an LA park. That’s just a little over one square kilometer.

Why did Ordeñana turn his eyes (and camera traps) onto Debs Park? He explains, “The Arroyo Seco is a seasonal waterway that connects the San Gabriel Mountains to the Los Angeles River confluence near Elysian Park. I approached Jeff Chapman, [of the] Audubon Center at Debs Park, about potentially setting out some camera traps in the park hoping that some wide-ranging predators reached the park via the Arroyo Seco.”

Debs Park might appear as an island surrounded by asphalt and concrete, but photographic sightings of a bobcat show it's not!

And so Debs Park is also not an island, despite being surrounded by LA’s dense urbanization. Since most of his camera traps were already in use at Griffith Park and in Nicaragua, Ordeñana placed just three cameras in the park, and each of them caught photographic evidence of a bobcat.

Bobcats, like mountain lions, are a solitary and highly territorial species. While even one bobcat needs a territory larger than Debs Park to find enough food, Ordeñana pointed out that Debs Park is still larger than most other city parks, making it useful for urban carnivores like bobcats. The find reinforces the importance of maintaining even tiny bits of wilderness in large cities like Los Angeles. The camera trap photos validate “the preservation of small fragments of habitat that historically have been disregarded as valuable carnivore habitat, especially if they are possibly linked to larger wildernesses. From an urban bobcat conservation standpoint, the presence of this bobcat is helping us learn about the potential value of small habitat fragments linked by the Arroyo Seco, the need to study the value of the Arroyo Seco as a wildlife corridor, and the ability of bobcats to adapt to the urban landscape.” Life finds a way.

The best of Ordeñana’s camera trap photos showing the bobcat is above. Here are some more. Click any of them to enlarge:

One of the traps caught a coyote too!

All photos are the property of Miguel Ordeñana and are reproduced with permission.

Jason G. Goldman About the Author: Dr. Jason G. Goldman received his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Southern California, where he studied the evolutionary and developmental origins of the mind in humans and non-human animals. Jason is also an editor at ScienceSeeker and Editor of Open Lab 2010. He lives in Los Angeles, CA. Follow on . Follow on Twitter @jgold85.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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