LOS ANGELES — TAME OR WILD?

Los Angeles is full of wild critters: coyotes, mountain lions, black bears, skunks, raccoons, and mule deer, for instance. I’ve been here since 1965, but am always surprised about the natural aspects of Los Angeles. Many of our visitors don’t realize the scope of life here. We have a population of nearly 13 million, for instance. Interestingly, our statistics indicate that we only have 7,500 people per square mile, while New York City has 27,500 and Chicago has 11,800 folks per square mile. Of course our land area, just in the metropolitan LA area, is 4,850 square miles and that doesn’t include some of the outlying areas.

Being surrounded by mountains and lots of open space, Southern California is alive with wild animals (and I don’t mean young “cool cats,” etc., in Hollywood). Black bears come down from the mountains, especially in spring, for visits. They take a break in pools and hot tubs, break into refrigerators and freezers in garages, and easily discover when trash day is scheduled so they can steal food. If we two-legged animals spot them, chances are they’ll head for a tree when pursued. Animal control agents might use tranquilizer guns before they drive these fuzzy creatures back into the mountains. It doesn’t stop the bears; one of them that was relocated 50 miles away came back again the next year. The neighbors in the area he preferred even had a nickname for him — Meatball — since he preferred Costco frozen meatballs from a freezer he broke into. He finally had to be relocated to the San Diego County Sanctuary. Before that he had become quite the media star.

Malibu Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains  is full of wildlife.

Malibu Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains is full of wildlife. Photo by Heidi Giraud

Mountain lions are prevalent and most parks and hiking trails will have signs warning people to make themselves look bigger with arms extended, for instance, when encountering one. An unlucky biker was a target and died from a mountain lion attack a few years ago. These critters are very resourceful – one of them negotiated the flood channels (formally known as rivers) near Santa Monica and ended up in a small shopping center one morning; a male mountain lion found his way across five freeways to make his home in spacious Griffith Park. He was tagged P-22 and was in the news. He was videoed strolling along streets in the Hollywood Hills about 5 a.m. Was he looking for food or a mate? Nobody had a chance to interview him!

Behind a fence, a Coyote checks things out

Behind a fence, a Coyote checks things out

Coyotes are everywhere. Out in Malibu Lake in the Santa Monica Mountains, you can expect to see coyotes strolling around and perhaps peering through your glass patio door. Any residential areas near the mountains will enjoy coyote song during the night—their howling choruses remind me of a scary movie or a Stephen King book! Residents keep their cats and little dogs inside if they don’t want them to become a meal. Mule deer wander the hills as do raccoons and rattlesnakes. I had a brief encounter with a raccoon a few blocks from my apartment. He may have come from the nearby flood channel, which is blocked off from humans (who still insist on trying to ride the river when there’s a major rain storm, despite the danger).

The skies are full of hawks of various types and owls. When I do see hawks making lazy circles in the sky, I am reminded of the song from the musical “Oklahoma.” I had no idea wild owls could have such a wide wing span or look so imposing until I saw one on a mountain road devouring a recent kill. Sometimes, we can spot a flock of exotic parrots in the San Fernando Valley. There are 13 species of wild parrots in LA. Apparently they were once pets and were let go for one reason or another. During the 1961 fire in Bel Air (Nixon had a home there, which burned), firemen let pet parrots go because there was no time to save them. Others may have come from the Busch Gardens Park in Van Nuys, which was closed down in the late 1970s as the Anheuser-Busch brewery grew. The bird sanctuary was the last to go, but no one seems to know how so many parrots got away. Perhaps it was too much trouble to find them homes.

Seagulls, which prey on beachgoers for food, also fly in from the nearby ocean to see what tasty morsels can be had inland. While having a nice meal at Gladstone’s off Pacific Coast Highway on the beach, I’ve had a roll snatched out of my hand by a seagull that swooped by.

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