The word “wildlife” often conjures images of exotic creatures in lush, foreign scapes – lions, tigers, elephants, and many other species not found on this continent.
Citizens for LA Wildlife (CLAW), a local volunteer conservation group, wants to shift that perspective; wildlife walks among us, even within the urban confines of downtown Los Angeles.
CLAW has experienced some recent victories, including preservation of 17 acres of open space in Laurel Canyon as part of their “Let’s Buy a Mountain” project, and helping to advance Assembly Bill 1788, which would protect California wildlife from the most dangerous rodenticides (rat poisons). AB 1788 was supported by the State Assembly with a vote of 49-16 on May 6 and is on its way to the California State Senate.
Another win was an opportunity to present about wildlife conservation at Isana Octavia Academy, a public charter school in Los Angeles. Andrew Lasken, co-director of CLAW, was impressed that a group of 8th graders were his point of contact. “It’s really neat to see kids take action like that on their own initiative,” he said.
While some complex details were omitted, Lasken remained true to his standard presentation, which does not sugarcoat the life-and-death issues LA wildlife faces. The students despaired when Lasken mentioned almost 90% of necropsied coyotes and bobcats contain traces of rat poison, and that mountain lions in the Santa Monicas are landlocked by urban development and freeways, possibly facing local extinction within our lifetime.
I was fortunate enough to be invited along to talk about coyotes as an addendum to Andrew’s presentation. Unsurprisingly, the kids reacted most enthusiastically to the activity where we vocalized like coyotes (with barks, yips, and howls) together, as well as to the possibility of being a poop scientist during my short overview of careers in biology.
But one moment in between the cacophony of coyote calls will be what sticks with me longest. As the students were quieting down, I asked again why coyotes make those funny noises; in the first row, a jokester blurted out “Because they’re random!”
His friend adjacent, atypically quiet and focused throughout our presentation, gave him an elbow, and in an exasperated tone groaned, “No, bro, to communicate.”
To hear that impassioned 8th graders, not their teachers, were responsible for our being there was in a way comforting. Here was proof that environmental activism continues to happen, even with children, and even in a city as urban as Los Angeles.
Their excitement, curiosity, and compassion will make them good scientists – so it’s up to us to nurture those qualities and guide future generations towards respect for our planet. “It’s really important to educate kids about the wildlife around them, because awareness is the first step towards good stewardship,” said Lasken.
“A lot of the wildlife that kids learn about is in far away places, but there are all sorts of cool animals right here in our own city.”