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Enjoy the latest feature story from The Nucleus
Members Meet Santa Monica’s Mountain Lions on a Virtual Field Trip
On a bright winter morning January 30, the California Science Center welcomed our Member and donor families to a Virtual Field Trip, live on Zoom, from the L.A. Zone of our Ecosystems Gallery where they learned about mountain lions and how they survive in an urban ecosystem. The virtual trip to the Santa Monica Mountains was guided by Senior Educator Elaine Krebs (pictured right) and Educator Brittany Munson (pictured left).
We began in the Science Center’s L.A. Zone that explores how human inventions impact our habitat and other living things while ensuring our survival. An interactive exhibit called Guide the Bobcat Home helps visitors learn more about the unique challenges faced by one special member of our urban ecosystem who lives in “L.A.’s backyard” – the Santa Monica Mountains. Other exhibits include a bicycle that powers different types of light bulbs and an electric car designed by Caltech scientists and students to operate on solar power. Telescopes located near windows overlooking Exposition Park can be utilized to spot other living members of our urban ecosystem, like birds and squirrels.
A discussion on local wildlife began with our youngest Members asked to look at a picture depicting a wide range of different animals and choose which ones they expected to find in the Santa Monica Mountains. They correctly identified fish, snakes, deer, owls, raccoons, coyotes and, of course, mountain lions!
The first native mountain lion Member families were introduced to was P22. “P” stands for “puma” and the mountain lions are named by the sequence in which they are collared. Elaine displayed a photograph of an adult male mountain lion prowling at night on a hillside in front of the famous Hollywood Sign. “What is unusual about him?” she asked. Lots of young Members pointed out that he was wearing a strange collar. Using a cuddly stuffed version of P22, Elaine explained that scientists put a collar on mountain lions, without hurting them, which emits electronic signals that tell scientists and park rangers where they are located at all times. This allows mountain lions’ movements to be tracked over time to learn more about them.
A special map of the region showed Member families how scientists track mountain lions by drawing circles over the entire area that a single male mountain lion claims as his territory, with different colors marking the territory of several different mountain lions. Only the males are territorial, so each region has one male and several females and kittens. Not all mountain lions are tagged, and new ones are continually being born, so we don’t know the precise number that live in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Brittany then invited participation in another activity to place different mountain lions that have been tracked in one of three categories according to how well they were surviving in the Santa Monica Mountains. She explained that mountain lions thrive when “they have many babies, they live a long time and they have their own range” to live in. Member families had the opportunity to hear the stories of several different mountain lions collared by scientists and decide how they fit in the overall picture of mountain lion survival.
For example, Members learned about P30, a male kitten that grew to adulthood and survived long enough to establish his own territory in the Santa Monica Mountains. And P44, that became a celebrity on an episode of 60 Minutes. But they also learned about P53, that died from ingesting rat poison and a number of other mountain lions that were killed trying to cross freeways.
Elaine and Brittany talked about “wildlife bridges” designed to give animals like mountain lions the means to cross safely over freeways so they can follow their natural instincts and expand their territories without being harmed. Members of all ages pondered these histories and had a lively discussion on how we humans can mitigate the impact we have on our natural habitat.
We are delighted that so many of our Members and donors truly enjoyed our virtual field trip and learning all about the mountain lions in L.A.’s backyard.
“I certainly enjoyed learning more about the puma in our beautiful Santa Monica Mountains. Thank you for such a wonderful virtual field trip that was... of great educational benefit for all.” - Science Center Donor
“This was a really nice program. Thanks for hosting this. I can’t wait to visit the California Science Center again when the pandemic is over!” - Science Center Member
And neither can we! We look forward to seeing all our Member families, friends and supporters back in the Science Center once it is safe to reopen so you can explore the L.A. Zone and our many other exhibits.