Image via WikipediaIt is very difficult to get up close to wildlife, especially the predatory kind. They are cunning, swift, and well camouflaged against the backdrop of nature. I sometimes wonder how many times I have been noticed by an observant puma or coyote as I blithely strolled down a favorite trail.
The beauty of the Visitor Center at the Mission Trails Regional Park - the largest city park in our nation - is that you can get up close and scrutinize the wildest creatures that roam this area, thanks to a diorama featuring a puma, a coyote and a bobcat. I'm not a big fan of rhino or moose heads mounted like trophies on lodge walls, because it's like they're saying, "I fell prey to big game hunters with lots of cash." These animals I am about to introduce you to are beloved residents of the Mission Trails Interpretive Center. And FYI, the mountain lion is a reproduction because stuffing and displaying this protected creature is outlawed in California.
Coyotes are sometimes mistaken for dogs. Their appetite for small mammals is an aggravation to people with cats and small dogs who live near Mission Trails. We don't own any pets, which frees us from such consternation, and I enjoy hearing the plaintive wails of roving coyotes at night down in the canyon.
One time, upon hearing the cries of "The Boys," as Mark and I refer to them, I decided to sing back. At first there was a mystified silence, and then a responding wail. We went back and forth for the next ten minutes. It was exhilarating.
Just after the big San Diego wildfires in 2007, we noticed that there seemed to be less coyotes in the area, and thus the rat population in the canyons appeared to be increasing. Now that the native plants have been proliferating over the last few years, the coyotes and other wild animals are beginning to return.
Bobcats are more infrequently seen because they ordinarily do their hunting at night. Count yourself lucky if you do see one because they are notoriously shy.
They are solitary by nature. I was fortunate enough to spot one leaping across a jeep trail where I was mountain biking.
He spotted me, first, of course, and by the time I realized he was a bobcat, he had scrambled out of reach and out of sight.
These large mammals command respect because they could crush a human neck with one bite. If you happened to be in a crouched position while pumping the tire of your mountain bike, and a rogue mountain lion happened to be downwind of you, it could be the last ride you ever took.
There have been a few instances of death by cougar in Southern California, but the mountain lions involved were determined to be crazed with hunger.
I had an experience with a mountain lion a few years ago. I wrote a poem about it called "Puma at Pinyon Canyon", one of those experiences that you tuck away in memory forever.