First Photographic Evidence of a Bobcat in Debs Park: Another Surprising Carnivore Discovery in L.A.'s Urban Ecosystem

I am proud to announce that I have confirmed the presence of a bobcat in Ernest E. Debs Regional Park (Debs Park), located in the Repetto Hills within the Montecito Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles.  This discovery sheds some light on local carnivore ecology and offers L.A. an additional ambassador for L.A. wildlife and urban parks.

 What and where is Debs Park? 

 Debs Park is definitely on the radar of many Angeleno hikers and urban nature lovers but it definitely deserves more attention.  The city park is approximately 280 acres (.44 mi2/1.13 km2) within the densely populated and predominately Latino neighborhoods of northeast LA.  As a reference, Griffith Park, home of a small bobcat population and one trailblazing puma (P-22), is about 4,310 acres (6.73 mi2/17.44 km2). 

The Audubon Society recognized the importance of this valuable natural resource and built the Audubon Center at Debs Park.  The center was built to establish a permanent Audubon presence in the park that would help the park reach its true potential as urban wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation space for the local community. 

 How did the photo come about?

 One of my roles at the Natural History Museum of L.A. County is to map L.A. wildlife in underrepresented and under-served neighborhoods in L.A.  Also, carnivores and other nocturnal species are poorly documented in the urban core of Los Angeles.  Audubon Center staff and dedicated birders have done an excellent job at keeping track of the birdlife in the park via eBird and iNaturalist but I wanted to see what nocturnal predators were using the park.  Although the park is pretty small, isolated, and crisscrossed by human trails, I knew that the park had great potential for supporting some pretty cool carnivores.  I know that few unoccupied habitat fragments remain for territorial carnivores in urban Los Angeles so any suitable habitat with a potential connection to larger habitat has a good chance of harboring an adaptive and lucky carnivore.  Also, I can now only discount a few L.A. urban wildernesses as potential carnivore habitats after discovering P-22 in Griffith Park.  In this case, the glimmer of hope for habitat connectivity comes in the form of a concrete channel called the Arroyo Seco.   

 The Arroyo Seco is a seasonal waterway that connects the San Gabriel Mountains to the Los Angeles River confluence near Elysian Park.  I approached Jeff Chapman, Audubon Center at Debs Park, about potentially setting out some camera traps in the park hoping that some wide-ranging predators reached the park via the Arroyo Seco.  He invited me during the summer and fall but I had to unexpectedly delay the camera deployment because I had to use the camera traps for surveys in Griffith Park, leaving zero to spare for Debs.  I finally freed up three of my camera traps a couple weeks ago and got in touch with Jeff with perfect timing.  Jeff told me that a couple of his staff members saw a bobcat.  I was excited because the sightings were from credible sources; however, they were not able to capture any images of a bobcat with their own camera traps.  I volunteered my camera traps and spent a few hours searching for three camera trap locations with good potential for bobcat activity.  A couple obstacles that I faced were that most of the best drainages and canyons were overrun with human activity and it was my very first visit to Debs Park, which made it unfamiliar territory.  Thanks to a combination of careful placement and luck, I got bobcat pictures on all three camera traps that I set up throughout the park.

What's the Big Deal? 

 Bobcats are solitary and territorial species that require on average between 1.5 km2 (females) and 3 km2 (males) of space to find adequate resources.  Although the park is smaller than most bobcat territories, it is larger than most city parks and acts as the local urban community's major link to nature.  Also, the picture validates the preservation of small fragments of habitat that historically have been disregarded as valuable carnivore habitat, especially if they are possibly linked to larger wildernesses.  From an urban bobcat conservation standpoint, the presence of this bobcat is helping us learn about the potential value of small habitat fragments linked by the Arroyo Seco, the need to study the value of the Arroyo Seco as a wildlife corridor, and the ability of bobcats to adapt to the urban landscape.  Although this bobcat may not reach the fame of P-22, hopefully the Audubon Center, the Natural History Museum and other urban wildlife outreach institutions can use this bobcat to raise awareness for urban bobcats and L.A. wildlife. 

How long will it stay in the park?  Are there more bobcats in the park?  These are all questions we hope to answer with continuous camera trap monitoring of the park.  However, what I do know is that opportunities to connect park poor and under-served communities with nature are limited so let's make the best of it!!!

This has been an exciting week of game-changing camera trap discoveries so stay tuned because I will be revealing another important carnivore discovery very soon!!