Ballona Photography | Mammals In Our Midst

Mammals In Our Midst

June 03, 2017  •  1 Comment

 Conservationist E. O. Wilson coined the term biophilia as "the urge to affiliate with other forms of life”.  In the past 100-150 years, during the buildup of cities, very little consideration was given to accommodating natural habitats and ecosystems.  Even most parks were designed for beautification and human recreation, not wildlife.  The result was that most wildlife was pushed out of cities. Ironically, because of relatively abundant food and water sources, some wildlife found a way to endure in urban areas.

A nascent body of research related to biophilia is sweeping the academic and activists world globally.  Biophilia acknowledges cities as human-driven ecosystems and studies how to design urban ecosystems to meet both human needs and indigenous flora and fauna needs. Indeed, strong drivers of this relatively new field are climate change and sea level rise combined with unprecedented rate of wildlife species collapse.

I try imagining what the Ballona Wetlands area was like 100-200 years ago.  I imagine it was teaming with wildlife, including a much wider a variety of land and sea mammals, shore, marsh, and riparian birds, and many other species.   Only a handful of the original species have managed to endure, even as challenges to their very survival continue to mount. 

Ironically wildlife can no longer survive without us.  I hope for all our sakes we can make sure their progeny still has a home among our progeny a hundred years hence. Here are a few of our mammal neighbors I’ve been lucky enough to photograph.  I look forward to learning how biophilia research and outreach influences urban landscape designs that integrate biophilia and the restoration of our native biodiversity. 

California Coyote

Most urban areas in the U.S. have coyotes, including Los Angeles. A small population of coyotes still live in the Ballona Wetlands.   In 2016, the Urban Coyote Project (run by the National Park Service) recruited Los Angeles volunteers to collect coyote scat (i.e. poop) and send it to their lab to determine the coyote’s primary food sources. Turns out they eat rodents, fruits and berries, and our leftovers, including paper towels and food wrappers!

Botta's Pocket Gopher

This gopher feeds on plant shoots, grasses, roots, tubers, and bulbs.  Though active about nine hours a day, it spends 90% of its time in its burrow.  This is probably a good thing because coyotes, hawks and other predators like to snack on them!  A typical burrow has separate branches for food storage, fecal matter and refuse repositories, and for nesting. 

California Ground Squirrel

California Ground Squirrels eat seeds eggs, insects, roots, tubers, grains, nuts and fruit, and are known to eat grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and caterpillars. They live in extended burrows, which can house many generations forming a small colony, with each individual having their own entrance.  They create habitat for other animals, such as rodents and snakes, which occupy empty burrows.  California Ground Squirrels are preyed upon by red-tailed hawks, coyote, fox, badgers, weasels, house cats, dogs, and snakes.

Desert Cottontail

The Desert Cottontail living in the Ballona Wetlands eats grass, herbs, vegetables and even cacti.  It is a source of food for almost every living carnivorous creature larger or faster than it.

Juvenile California Sea Lion

We have the privilege of also having ocean-based mammals in our midst, too.  But the past few years their very survival have been wrought with challenge. This crisis is the result of a recent crash in forage fish populations — the Pacific sardine population is the lowest it’s been in a decade — just 5% of what it was in 2006. 

Recommended Reading:

  • When Mountain Lions are Neighbors, People and Wildlife Working it Out in California, 2016, by Beth Pratt-Bergstrom
  • Satellites in the High Country, Searching for Wild in the Age of Man, 2015, by Jason Mark
  • Feral Cities, Adventures with Animals in the Urban Jungle, 2015, by Tristan Donovan
  • Imagining Extinction, the Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species, 2016, by Ursula K Heise




Leslie Oliver(non-registered)
Thank you for writing this... Very interesting, but sad. Your pictures of our little 'neighbors' are great! Thanks again!
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