A Scientific Approach to the Urban Wildlife All Around Us
• Two-Legged Carnivores and Four-Legged Carnivores May Share Many Common Concerns
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Most Malibuites have seen coyotes and bobcats, a lucky few may encounter the shy and reclusive grey fox and fewer still have stories to tell about Malibu’s top predator, the mountain lion. Now a new book offers a look into the private lives of some of the area’s wildest and often misunderstood inhabitants.
“Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict, and Conservation” written by Stanley D. Gehrt, Seth P. D. Riley and Brian L. Cypher, is published by Johns Hopkins University Press. It’s a serious science text with a hefty price tag—$75 retail—but it offers the reader a rare opportunity to learn more about local ecology.
According to the National Park Service, the book is the first to address the topic, and covers the ecology and behavior of well-known urban carnivore species around the world.
Riley, a NPS wildlife ecologist, has spent years conducting Southern California carnivore research, much of it in the local mountains, and a considerable portion of the book focuses on research conducted in Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains, but there are also contributions from scientists who have conducted long-term carnivore studies in other large cities across North America, Great Britain and Europe. In addition to coyotes, bobcats and mountain lions, the book examines raccoons, red foxes, Eurasian badgers, and the endangered San Joaquin kit fox.
Riley discusses the impact that urbanization has on mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes in the Santa Monica Mountains region. The book reportedly provides one of the most comprehensive accounts of wildlife activity in the mountains to date.
“With over half of the world’s population living in urban environments, and a significant number of those living in the Los Angeles region, carnivore interaction is a growing area of research for wildlife managers, conservationists, urban planners, and the public at large,” the press release states.
“‘Urban Carnivores’ will be of particular interest to Southern California residents who are curious about the wildlife of the Santa Monica Mountains, and want an insider’s view of animal activity that is sometimes difficult for the citizen scientist to observe.”
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area has been the site of urban carnivore research since 1996. The studies, which used radio collars, satellite positioning, remote wildlife cameras and traditional physical tracking skills to observe the movements of bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, and mountain lions, have enabled biologists to “document many interesting phenomena that are now presented in Urban Carnivores,” the press release states.
The National Park Service and partners at UCLA and UC Davis are currently studying the relationship between anticoagulant rodenticides and the occurrence of mange by studying bobcats close to urban areas where anticoagulants are most prevalent and also in more rural locations.
Funding for the mountain lion study ended in October, 2009. Radio collars for mountain lions cost approximately $4000 each.
The cost, as well as the labor involved in capturing mountain lions and fitting them with radio collars may mean that the mountain lion study will be significantly reduced in the near future. Some observers have also questioned whether the repeated capture and tranquilization of big cats could potentially have a negative impact on their health and behavior.
The coyote study highlighted in “Urban Carnivores” took place between 1996 and 2003. The study found that despite the highly urbanized setting, coyotes were “still eating mostly natural foods and spending the majority of their time in natural areas.”
Although the study is complete, NPS representatives say they hope to begin “a new study examining human-coyote conflict in urban areas and different ways that land management and wildlife policies can encourage coexistence between coyotes and humans in urban landscapes, with partners such as the City of Los Angeles.
Riley will be speaking about “Urban Carnivores” on April 17 at 12:30 p.m. at Paramount Ranch in Agoura Hills as part of the NPS’s first annual Santa Monica Mountains Science Festival.
The Nature of Wildworks will also be at the event with living examples of some of the animals discussed. More information on the free, family-friendly citizen science event is available for review at www.nps.gov/samo.