Hollywood's very own mountain lion is trapped in a basement right now. It's a bizarre wildlife vs urbanization conflict, but it's also indicative of what makes this city so special: its nature.
I was on the phone with a colleague the other day when it came up that she'd never visited Los Angeles. She lives in Maine and always thought the only only thing here was vacuous people with plastic surgery, frosted tips and leased Audis. I was sitting on my front porch (the only place I can get cell reception here in Hollywood) and told her that, from there I could see a mountain where lions and bears live and, beyond it, there's really not much but total wilderness all the way to Denver, 1,000 miles away.
Directly outside my front gate, there's coyotes. Where Wiley and I hike everyday, there's rattlesnakes. Most people don't see either, but they're there. The only evidence of the coyotes you need are all the "Lost Dog" posters in the neighborhood; it seems like a new one goes up every day. Hate to break it to you, but your Pomeranian's not lost lady, he's lunch. It's just about rattlesnake season again; I killed one in my driveway last year after nearly stepping on it while barefoot.
Until recently, my favorite biker bar out in the mountains about an hour outside of town had two bear cubs living under the pool table. Tony, the owner, fed them ice cream cones. He nearly broke down in tears as he told me about Fish and Game coming to get them; they live at a zoo in Texas now.
While camping 40 miles north of town, two year-old lions walked into my camp one night. I ran them off — mountain lions are fast! — but they just circled around and came back later in the night to try and get my food. In the same area, an older lion tried to eat Wiley one night, back when he was a puppy. I didn't let it. The next day, my puppy and I found a herd of Bighorn Sheep that were thought to have died-off in the area nearly a century ago. We stalked to within 10 feet of them and shot the first video of that herd ever captured. That was an hour's drive from my house.
And you don't even need to leave town to see wildlife. A friend lives in Eagle Rock, where there's a park he can take his dog to let it hunt rabbits. A few miles from there, that same dog scared a mountain lion up a tree.
In the water, just a hundred yards or so off Malibu's beaches, there's great white sharks. They eat the sea lions. Go out a little further and you can catch tuna. A couple years ago, thousands and thousands of giant squid invaded local waters, washing up on beaches up and down the coast and being reeled in by fishermen.
You see and hear about wildlife when there's a conflict. A mountain lion going about its business in the woods, when no one's around, isn't news. Most people don't know how to see animals when they're outdoors. I've even watched people walk just inches away from a rattlesnake while hiking Runyon. Surfers don't make a big deal out of seeing sharks. But, the amount of wildlife conflicts we have here in LA is indicative of how much nature thrives on the city's fringes and in the places where the wild remains within its borders.
New York has Central Park, where pigeons live. LA has Griffith Park, with its very own lion (currently trapped in a basement), bobcats, coyotes, mule deer, falcons and hawks. There is no other city in the world that's on the scale of a Paris, London or Tokyo that can boast such diverse wild inhabitants or that can claim a wild lion lives within its borders and is regularly visited by several others.
I moved here from New York for that reason four years ago. Where once I had to get on a plane and fly to California to do stuff outdoors, now I just live here and walk out my front door. Every day I see coyotes and hawks; twice a year or so I see a mountain lion; I've snorkeled through a kelp forest with sharks; and I hunt pigs about two hours away. Then I come home, take a shower and go sit in a restaurant with really good food where my waiter wants to talk to me about his acting career and the rest of the guys in the place get their eyebrows plucked professionally. Every stereotype you've ever heard about LA is true, but if you're prepared to put up with that, this city gives you unprecedented exposure and access to nature. And the lion just got out of the basement!
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.