The Zoo in Our Backyard
At my time of life, I spend a lot of time in doctors’
waiting rooms. Before I retired, I used to bring
something from work, or the book I currently was
reading. Now I’m afraid I’ll lay something down and
forget it, so I’m more inclined to read the magazines
I find there.
Of course, many of them are old. I’ve been
surprised to discover how many are fashion
magazines. Glancing around the waiting room, I
find very few people who look as though they stay on
the cutting edge of fashion.
Others are magazines about diseases or medical
specialties. The point of that escapes me as well.
Most of us are there for a particular complaint, and I
can’t imagine that we’d be interested in reading
about a different one.
Last time I was in my podiatrist’s waiting room,
however, I found a new magazine with a cover article
that interested me. It was the December 9 Time
magazine article called "America's Pest Problem:
Why the Rules of Hunting Are About to Change." It's
about the surge in the number of wild animals in
America—often in cities, even in people’s yards.
I was interested because we’ve been collecting
pictures of what I call "The Zoo in Our Backyard.” In
the 20 years we’ve lived in our house near Culver
City, just 10 heavily populated miles from downtown
Los Angeles, we’ve seen a surprising number of
wild animals in our backyard.
Not surprising with a backyard with several trees—
including an avocado and a grapefruit--we’ve seen a
lot of squirrels. I enjoy watching them frolic and play
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When we replaced our bird feeder this year, it
attracted a delightful group of house finches with pink
to bright red heads, breasts and rumps. We’ve also
seen several pairs of mourning doves and quite a few
But I was most surprised to see a big, beautiful
Cooper’s hawk who became a fairly regular visitor—
lured, I'm afraid, not by the bird feeder, but by the birds
that came to it.
Perhaps the strangest animal to end up in our
backyard was a Vietnamese potbellied pig. It started
out in the front yard, but as soon as we saw it, we
knew it wasn't wild. It was somebody’s pet.
I herded it into our fenced-in backyard (walking close
behind it, circling around to cut it off from straying).
Then we went online to find out what to feed it.
We gave it water and a lettuce and shredded carrot
salad, and it seemed happy enough. The next day,
though, when I went out to check on it, it was nowhere
to be seen. I called for it, as I’d heard farmers with
pigs call their animals when I was a child in Texas:
Then I heard a rustle in a pile of leaves near the
corner of the house. The pig had burrowed into that
blanket of leaves for what I assumed was a nice,
We called the local humane society and were given
the number of a woman in the neighborhood who had
lost her pot-bellied pig. We called her, and she came
It was a little hard to lose that pig, but we knew the
woman was happy to get her pet back.
Fortunately, we've never had an animal as large as
the one that's been living in Griffith Park, home of the
Hollywood sign and the Griffith Observatory.
P-22 is the name given the cougar (above), that was
photographed by National Geographic photojournalist
Steve Winter for the magazine’s December issue.
The cougar had to cross two highways to reach the
park. It then became trapped by the 24-hour traffic
Other articles in this website include 'Let's Be
Neighbors,' the theme of the City of Glendale's
Governor's Trophy winner in this year's Rose Parade,
which features wild animals encountered in the
foothills area; Synurbization, the scientific study of the
causes of the increase in wild animals in urban
habitats; and What Now?, a discussion of what we
can do about the phenomenon.
What are your experiences with wild animals in your
hometown? Why do you think synurbization is
happening, and what should we do about it? Just
write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
But we’ve also had opossums (left). One
got into the garage and bit my husband
Frank's finger when he unwittingly reached
for a drip cloth.
Apparently a family of raccoons (below)
has made a home in one of our trees. Our
son Robert, who works nights, tends to be
the one who sees the most of them. He
took both of these photos.
The lights of Los Angeles form a backdrop to this photo by National Geographic photojournalist Steve Winter of
the cougar called P-22 in Griffith Park.
Finch (above); Squirrel (below)