Thursday, March 26, 2009

Urban Critters in Los Angeles

If anyone knows of an official study showing the ups and downs of wild animal populations in our county, I'd love to hear about it!

Growing up in the 1960s, I never saw a squirrel or opossum in the suburbs. Now, they are common. Also never saw a raccoon--but these days they sneak through porches and back yards, looking for food. In 2006, NPR aired a story about gangsta raccoons terrorizing Venice residents, even attacking a 50-pound Dalmatian! Here's a story from this year about a Pasadena woman shooting a raccoon that attacked her dogs. And of course, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez has written about them.

I'd like to see some numbers! Is it just anecdotal, that long-time residents of suburbia note an increase in fauna? Or did the critters run out of vacant lots and undeveloped land in the 90s, and are their numbers in residential areas really increasing?

I did learn from the L.A. Animal Control site that opossums were introduced into Northern California as late as 1910. So if you happen to see something like this when you walk out to your car in the morning, you might want to bring up the All City Animal Trapping folks who provided this picture in the photo gallery.

In April, 1922, a farmer in Ventura dispatched a chicken-stealing opossum, "probably the only opossum ever killed in this county," and the story was worthy of the Times. The creatures were moving south, but no one suspected...until May 4, 1924, when a headline on pg. 14 read, "Possum meat at Lankershim--First Animal of Kind Is Trapped on Ranch in River Area." The ranch was the Charlie Machus ranch on Tujunga Avenue. A visitor from Missouri id'd the varmint, who had been stalking the chicken-house for some days. The Times speculated that the opossum escaped from a traveling circus or "one of the film studio zoos in Universal City."

On November 8, 1926, one Sargeant Johnson of the Valley Division fired at a strange creature on Sepulveda Blvd, in Van Nuys, later realizing it was an opossum. He originally thought it might be a mountain lion, which is why he shot at it.

Finally, on March 1, 1928: "Angeleno bags first 'Possum." The bag-ee was hanging around Mrs. Mac Marsh's chicken coup on 98th St. A neighbor shot it, though the police had been called.

As for coyotes, here's a site that maps encounters and sitings of them beasties, maintained by several agencies. The site, CoyoteBytes, also has pictures, like the one at right. Dept. of Animal Regulation employee T. Baswell took this recently. My one complaint about the site is that the encounter map doesn't have dates, but it still makes an interesting visit.


Vix said...

To add to this fun, here's a Daily Onion story about poor raccoons being blamed for overturning trashcans in MA...when it truth, it's a 37-year-old awkward and ungainly salesman doing the damage:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you about how common it is to see these kinda animals around the suburbs & urbans!